|February 22, 1194
Lefty Driesell Award
No one has had a more meteoric rise in their career in the past 12 months than Elfrid Payton. When Payton made the United States U19 for the 2013 FIBA Under-19 World Championships in the Czech Republic he really started his path to being a household name among the college ranks.
The past month and weeks alone have been a microcosm of Elfrid Payton's career from an unheralded recruit in Jefferson Parish to a possible first rounder to a likely lottery pick. All in all, Payton may be the most intriguing prospect in this Thursday's NBA Draft but what is it that sets him apart from everyone else?
Just looking at Payton's statline will get you excited when you see the nearly 20 points and 6 assists per game. Payton established one of the nation's top inside-outside duos with Shawn Long at Louisiana and quickly became a known commodity for the Ragin' Cajuns. Although Payton is certainly an offensive threat and one of the best pure point guards in the college game, it's what he does on the defensive side of the ball that sets him apart from other draft prospects.
Ryan Blake, the NBA's Director of Scouting, recently told John Reid of NOLA.com:
"I really like this kid because he can make a difference on both ends of the floor. I think he will have a chance to get minutes early because of his ability to cause chaos on defense, rebound and run the point and find the right man. I think he's a guy that plays with maturity and confidence.''
While Payton has the big point guard body, court vision, and offensive prowess it's his defense that makes him truly stand out, as exhibited this past year when he was named the Sun Belt's Defensive Player of the Year. Payton doesn't have the defensive flash of a Briante Weber but he's just as much a threat to steal the ball and he averaged 2.3 steals per game this past year. Payton will also go into the trees and pull down a board for you. This past season he averaged 5.9 rebounds per game, which was among the best from any point guard.
The second quality that Payton brings to the table is an intangible in the chip that he always carries on his shoulder. He always had to climb the ladder and there has always been a knock. He was a little known local recruit out of high school but still played over 20 minutes per game his freshman year. He's from a small school, he hasn't played against the nation's elite, so on and so on... You'll hear all that rhetoric but Payton doesn't care and uses as fuel for fire.
''I always have a chip on my shoulder and coming from a small school makes it bigger. I think I'm ready to handle it (playing in the NBA). But there's definitely going to be some challenges. At the same time, it's just basketball.'' via NOLA.com
The "well he played in a small conference" excuse doesn't really fly when you look at what Payton did against quality opponents this past year alone:
|Georgia State (SBC Championship)
|Creighton (NCAA Tournament)
Right now you'll find Payton as a lottery pick in almost every mock drafts, some of which have him going as high as seventh overall to the Los Angeles Lakers. The debate at the point guard position is around Australian product Dante Exum, former Oklahoma State star Marcus Smart, and Payton. Payton is certainly the most experienced of the three playing in 95 collegiate games and averaging over 35 minutes per game the past two seasons.
We obviously won't know where Payton will end up until Thursday night, but don't be surprised to see a team valuing the former Sun Belt star as a facilitator and defensive presence over the likes Exum or Smart. After all, everything Payton has done in his career at this point has been unexpected.