John Raoux, AP Photo
If you don’t know who Elfrid Payton is, you’re not alone. Originally projected as a late first round/early second round pick when he declared for the draft, Payton’s stock began to rise at the NBA Draft Combine and then skyrocketed when he worked out for teams.
Ultimately, the Magic were the team that were impressed enough to trade for Payton on draft night in exchange for Dario Saric, a future first round pick, and a future second round pick. The general consensus is that the Magic gave up too much for Payton. The underlying question has been: is he good enough?
To help answer that question (and many others) is Tom Martin, a sports reporter at KATC in Lafayette, La. Tom covered Payton’s junior year at Louisiana-Lafayette.
What are Payton’s strengths?
He’s as versatile as point guards come — 6-foot-3, good wingspan, can guard three positions, rebounds well for a point guard, can be a patient game-manager, or go into full-fledged attack mode. He did everything the Ragin’ Cajuns asked him to do (ironically the one thing he wasn’t asked to do was shoot — more on that later), and he succeeded despite being THE perimeter focal point of opposing defenses.
The NBA talk revved up after his performance on the Team USA U-19 team (playing next to Aaron Gordon, to whom he threw a NASTY alley-oop in the gold medal game) and his numbers really had nothing to do with it. I think he surprised people with his tenacity on defense and his ability to push the ball in transition and finish around the rim — it’s possible that scouts noticed it last year, but this was the first time they had seen him do it against elevated competition — there just wasn’t a drop-off. It surprised us down here how much he really fit in on the bigger stage without missing a beat.
There are two major strengths of Payton’s that I believe will translate right away: Driving ability in the lane and then, of course, his defense. I’m a big Rockets fan and I remember a younger Kyle Lowry earning his minutes (back when his jumper was horrible) because he drove at will, drew fouls, and got opposing bigs in foul trouble. That’s something I expect Payton will do from day one — he’s coordinated and hungry enough to live in the lane, and he proved it in college.