It’s Time Everyone Started Appreciating Gary Payton II

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 15th, 2016

Colorado blew out Oregon State on Wednesday night behind 25 points and 12 rebounds from Josh Scott to improve to 2-2 in the Pac-12 standings. But with apologies to the victors, that game may have been a better display for the skills of another league star: Gary Payton II. The senior guard, or, as the Colorado student section dubbed him, “Daddy’s Shadow”, exploded for a career-high 26 points and season-high 15 rebounds in the losing effort. He also did this. Which, if you have been staying up late to watch the Pac-12 in the last two weeks, is becoming a regular occurrence.

Gary Payton II Is Not Only The Best Point In The Pac, He's One Of It's Best Players (Oregon State Athletics)

Gary Payton II Is Making His Case To PAC-12 Opponents and NBA Scouts Alike This Season (Oregon State Athletics)

Even in defeat, Payton owned everyone’s attention. He was pretty much working on his own, but that didn’t seem to matter; the senior had posted nearly a double-double at halftime, then scored 18 points in the second half when he was clearly the only option. Payton was impossible to keep out of the lane (he went 9-of-10 from the charity stripe) and off the offensive glass (five of his 15 rebounds came there). His full line: 26 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, three steals and three turnovers. These kinds of stat lines are also becoming a regular occurrence.

Four days earlier in a home win against California, Payton posted a 20-point, 11-rebound, eight-assist, four-steal performance (against just one turnover). Three days before that, he had 22 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two steals and just two turnovers in the loss to Stanford. Before that, it was a modest 12/6/6 effort in the win over Oregon. It’s still early, but Payton leads the conference in steal percentage (4.2%) and assist rate (small sample size, but 40.7% is elite); he is also fourth in the conference in defensive rebounding percentage and 19th in offensive rebounding percentage (not bad for a wing). In short, Payton has been both the best and most entertaining player in the conference since New Year’s Day.

It would be misleading to subject Payton to the familiar trope about how nobody watches him play because his games are on late and he plays in an obscure corner of the college basketball world, even if both statements are true. It also helps to share an exact name with his famous basketball-playing father, but focusing on that alone is also lazy. Last season Payton was good but NBA scouts didn’t pay him much attention because of his admittedly raw offensive game. He was much more of a defensive-minded athlete than he was a true play-making point guard. With enhanced lead guard abilities and a modestly improved jump shot, that weakness has become a strength. Payton is also attacking the glass more often, and his defense remains as good as always. He is forcing NBA scouts to take notice of his all-around game and is consequently flying up NBA Draft boards.

The major knocks on Payton are that he isn’t a very efficient player (he has actually been slightly less effective at the rim than he was last season) and his shooting, while improved, is still not very good. But the Beavers’ offense has also been something of a dumpster fire. Payton is using more than 30 percent of the team’s possessions and taking more than 30 percent of the shots when on the floor, but he’s also the focal point of every opponent’s game plan. Given such scant assistance from his teammates, he has been forced to press the issue offensively. His weaknesses in shooting foul shots and threes contribute to his lower efficiency, but it’s important to note that some of that can be explained as a result of style (the Beavers are 244th in adjusted tempo) and lack of help from his supporting cast.

Payton may not necessarily be the best future professional in the Pac-12, but to this point he is running away with the conference Player of the Year award. He may also have a hold on the unofficial “One Player Worth Watching On Any Given Night” award. Not to mandate that East Coast college hoop fans change their sleeping habits, but if they need another reason to stay up late, they would be wise to not to forget about the most exciting players on the West Coast and in college basketball.

mlemaire (324 Posts)

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *