The Trail Blazers signed Gary Payton II last week to a training camp deal. The Blazers have 15 players with guaranteed contracts on their roster already, so it’s very unlikely that Payton plays his way into a deal in camp. Additionally, the Blazers have a stacked guard rotation already, worsening Payton’s odds. However, the Blazers do have both two-way contract spots available, and there’s a chance Payton could win one of those if he plays well in training camp and preseason. Here’s a quick look at some of his numbers from college and the G-League, and why they support his being a player who could earn NBA minutes.
In my research into what college statistics seem to translate to NBA success for point guards, I found that high steals are important, as are shooting efficiency and three-point makes. This information just makes Payton one of the more divisive prospects in my spreadsheet in recent memory. He had some incredible steals totals in college, racking up an average of 2.8 per game, which demonstrates incredible awareness, physical tools, and functional athleticism. On the other hand, he was a completely ineffective three-point shooter, making 0.8 per game on average on just 30.2% shooting. In addition to not making threes, Payton also didn’t get to the line at a high rate, which meant his efficiency was only alright despite good shooting on two-point field goals. If Payton wasn’t an efficient scorer in college, it makes him unlikely to be one in the NBA, but the steals bode well for his ability to contribute at some level due to athleticism and instincts.
A lot of Payton’s positive trends from college carried over to the G-League. He had low turnovers, rebounded the ball well, and had a high steal rate. The biggest change was that Payton took way more threes, shooting 4.6 per contest on average. That’s a substantial increase over his college numbers, and at least indicates he’s comfortable firing away from deep. Unfortunately, Payton still misfired, shooting 29.2% from three, well below average. The low free throw rate and high raw field goal percentages also look familiar: Payton appeared to be much the same player in the G-League as he was in college. This is kind of a good thing, as the G-League is a much higher level of competition than NCAA, but also indicates the gaps in Payton’s game.
Potential NBA role:
Payton will turn 26 in December. He was an old draft prospect, as he played in junior college before transferring to Oregon State, and therefore doesn’t have much upside despite his lack of NBA experience (in fact, his playing time has been limited enough I think whatever it shows is far outweighed by his lengthier stints at lower levels). Still, everything in his stats, both NCAA and G-League, would seem to indicate he can have a role in the NBA. His lack of outside shooting is a significant weakness, no doubt, but could be covered up with the right lineups. Payton is an aggressive, strong defensive player, and his fantastic ability to get steals can get his team out in transition for easy buckets. He’s a solid enough playmaker and can do other things on the court, like grab boards. Payton can finish around the basket due to his explosive leaping ability, though he does struggle at getting to the line.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Payton never made it in the NBA. Point guards in today’s game are almost required to be respectable threats from three, if not deadly from beyond, and Payton is not close to even the first mark. But he has legitimate strengths that can help a team, and if paired with some good offensive options in a reserve lineup, I believe he could be a competent backup point guard. He fits a mold of a defense-first point guard who brings energy and ignites the team in limited minutes, something along the lines of Eric Bledsoe during his Clippers’ stint. Payton probably won’t get to that level, but I think he can legitimately contribute in the NBA.