At the point guard position, Elfrid Payton’s defense is as good as it gets in this NBA Draft. The 6-foot-3 point guard out of Louisiana Lafayette was the 2013-14 Lefty Driesell National Defensive Player of the Year and a Lou Henson All-American during his junior year in school. Payton is athletic and very good anticipating what is about to happen on the court. He has a high intensity level and very strong fundamentals on the defensive end of the court. Suns general manager Ryan McDonough thinks that Payton has the tools for his defensive game to transition nicely to the NBA.
“He has good length, thin but wiry strong,” McDonough said. “As he gets older he will fill out and get stronger.
“He has pretty good instincts. He got his hand on a number of balls today and used his length to reach in and poke the ball away. I think he would be able to come in and pressure guys right away.”
Another plus for Payton is his young age. The 20-year-old enrolled at Louisiana Lafayette when he was 17 and is one of the youngest players in the draft despite playing three years of college ball.
Payton’s offensive game could catch up to his defense. His outside shooting is nonexistent, having shot 26 percent from three point range and 59 percent from the foul line despite having the second most free throw attempts in the nation last year. He is not a strong finisher around the basket — though he can get there often — and struggles with his left hand. He also had one of the highest turnover rates in college basketball last season, though he was forced to do quite a bit for a squad without very much talented around him. The potential is there for him to improve on the offensive side of the ball.
“You can tell just from our 3-on-3 stuff he’s got a great knowledge of the game,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. “Makes great passes. His shooting was better than I think we anticipated.”
How will Payton’s defensive game translate to the NBA? It seems like Payton will be one of those guys that needs to use his strength to carve out a successful NBA career rather than focus on improving his weaknesses. If he can be the strong on ball defender that he was in college then there will always be a roster spot for Payton, despite his offensive limitations. Payton does not seem scared of the big stage and that will go a long way for a young man coming from a small program.
“I always play with a chip on my shoulder, but no one is in college anymore and we are all on the same level now,” Payton said.
How he would fit with the Suns
Payton would come in and be the energy guy off the bench that can play defense and spark the team. The guard is projected a late first round pick, so if the Suns were to select him with their 27th overall pick it would probably mean the end for Ish Smith. The 20-year-old would probably see some time in the D-League to work on his shot and his offensive skills if selected.