Aided by a stellar senior season in East Lansing, former Michigan State forward Adreian Payne has solidified his spot in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft. The question now is just how high will he be taken?
Where to start?
There’s so much to like about Payne’s game, from his versatility at the offensive end to his effort level on the glass to his dynamic explosion around the basket to his NBA-ready frame.
Let’s be clear, though, he’s not a prototypical stretch four.
At 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds, Payne is a proficient jump shooter, especially from deep (42.3 percent in 2013-14). He can face up in halfcourt situations, curl off of picks or trail the play, and yet none of it seems to phase the 23-year-old’s shot. The Dayton, Ohio native will even take a defender off the dribble from time-to-time before raising up. His comfort level shooting the basketball is second to none among prospects at his position in this draft.
With that said, Payne also excels down on the low block. He’s efficient with hook shots over either shoulder and finishes above the rim with great regularity (70 percent and 1.47 points per possession).
No one has ever questioned Payne’s heart or passion for the game. During his four years under Tom Izzo, the motor was always running.
The light bulb was a different story.
His awareness and feel for the game leave something to be desire. While he wouldn’t necessarily take plays off in college, Payne would seemingly be a non-factor on offense for large chunks of times — and it had nothing to do with the opposing team. He’d simply check out mentally.
And defensively, he’s not what one would call a paint protector.
Often times with the Spartans, Payne would lose his man, fail to track down an attacking guard or have his back turned to an opposing player cutting down the lane.
On many occasions, his lack of awareness compromised Izzo and Co.’s entire defensive alignment, especially when situations required man power on the help side.
Fortunately, he comes to the league with a lot of upside on offense and plenty of intangibles that will endear him to whatever team ultimately selects him come June.
But Payne must adapt to the speed of the game and more detailed schemes if he’s going to be a viable asset for years to come.
For all of his terrific offensive attributes, the second-team All-Big Ten member struggled to make the simple plays at Michigan State, especially when teams game planned to limit his skill set.
Handling double teams/traps was not a strength of Payne’s at the collegiate level, as he tended to carelessly put the ball on the ground or rush a pass to a teammate — which more often than not resulted in a turnover (averaged 2.9 per 40 minutes as a senior).
If Payne can learn to simplify the game while still executing in a high-intensity atmosphere, he’ll be just fine. But for a four-year product who still lacks a polished basketball IQ, that might require some time and patience from his future employer.
How he would fit with the Suns
That employer just might be Phoenix.
With Channing Frye’s better years more than likely behind him and a more well-rounded version of a stretch four potentially available in the draft, it’s not out of the question that Ryan McDonough would take Payne with the first of the Suns’ three first-round picks.
He fits in Jeff Hornacek’s up-tempo system, has no problem doing the dirty work on the boards and provides yet another shooting weapon for the team to utilize in transition or in the halfcourt.
If the Suns are lucky, both Payne and the scoring wing they need will be available at No. 14 and No. 18 respectively.
But keep in mind, the two teams picking ahead of Phoenix in the lottery — the Orlando Magic and potentially Kevin Love-less Minnesota Timberwolves — could be in the market for a talented front court player.