Elfrid Payton is better than Jason Kidd

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - FEBRUARY 14: Elfrid Payton /

…Through each of their first eight games with the Phoenix Suns.

When the Phoenix Suns traded for Jason Kidd in late December 1996, they were acquiring a star. An already borderline superstar. A generational talent at point guard with a combination of both offensive and defensive skills that at that time in the NBA was unsurpassed, especially when taking into consideration his young age – 23.

Only two months into the team’s first season without Charles Barkley, the Suns were in need of a star talent to rally around, a face of the franchise who could help Phoenix maintain regular playoff attendance.

In his first outing he seriously impressed. That night in Vancouver Kidd nearly recorded a triple-double in 20 minutes of first half action, tallying 6 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. Had it not been for an unfortunate collar bone injury that occurred moments before the end of the second quarter which kept him out for the next six weeks, Kidd may have reached that triple-double in his first outing, what would have been the fastest in franchise history.

Phoenix Suns
Phoenix Suns /

Phoenix Suns

He recovered, fortunately, and after coming off the bench twice to help get his legs under him, he regained his rightful starting position.

Over his first eight games with the Suns, including the Vancouver game, Kidd averaged an impressive 10.9p/4.6r/8.5a/2.6s while shooting 47.8% from the field, 60.0% from 3 (on 9-15 shooting), and 66.7% from the charity stripe.

Kidd’s season was a bit of a roller coaster ride from there on out, being benched for eight straight at one point, failing to reach double-digit scoring in 15 of 38 games including the playoffs – failing to score a single point in one outing attempting only a single shot, although he did record his only two triple-doubles of the year, each within a three week period at the end of March and beginning of April.

We all obviously know what Kidd went on to accomplish the rest of his career, ultimately becoming a sure-fire Hall of Famer playing in the Association for an exceptional 19 seasons.

Elfrid Payton came to Phoenix in a somewhat similar situation.

Acquired mid-season (although at the trade deadline versus Kidd’s acquisition occurring early in the season), Payton filled a serious and desperate need at point guard that the team was lacking.

While not a star by any means, Payton’s similar two-way ability has been a trademark of his throughout both his college and pro careers. A pass first point guard, Payton looks to move the ball through pace and precision passing, seeking shots for Devin Booker and other scorers before considering lofting one up himself.

Although, unlike Kidd, he can  score with greater ease, and does, taking some pressure off of Devin Booker and T.J. Warren by forcing defenses to focus on him as a scoring threat as well, something opponents were not necessarily needing to worry about with other point guards the Suns had thrown out throughout the better part of this season.

Through eight games not only has Elfrid Payton impressed, but he has been better  than Jason Kidd, averaging 17.1p/7.8r/7.5a/1.1s while shooting 46.0% from the field and 77.1% from the charity stripe. Payton, never a truly effective 3-point shooter, is shooting slightly above his career worst at 28.6% with the Suns, far below Kidd’s percentage over his first eight Suns outings, although on only 4-14 shooting. He is 29-81 on the season between both Phoenix and Orlando.

Over Kidd’s first eight games, the Suns (who were a much more veteran-laden team and destined to make the playoffs) finished 4-4. Through Elfrid’s first eight Phoenix is only 1-7, although not in any way a correlation of talent.

Kidd was a guaranteed part of the future, the hope being that he would be so for a very many years. Ultimately he would only remain with the Suns for four and a half years.

Payton’s future with the Suns is far less in focus.

The franchise is still in its rebuilding state of flux, hoping to acquire one more star in the draft while potentially snagging another through either free agency or trade, with both the cap space and likely assets available to help facilitate such a move.

When acquired, Kidd was in the third year of a nine-year contract meaning that his tenure was all but guaranteed through the 2002-03 season (although that would obviously not be the case as he would be traded to the New Jersey Nets in the summer of 2001).

Payton is about to become a restricted free agent, possibly meaning that his career in Phoenix will be short, although at least guaranteeing the Suns the right to match any offer he will receive this summer, a benefit for a team in need of a long-term solution at the position.

However, that also means that his next contract might end up being slightly inflated based on market competition – especially if his current stat line holds or improves over the team’s final 18 games – potentially, although by no means guaranteeing, a more difficult path to acquiring veteran talent through trade or free agency.

Elfrid is currently earning just over $3.3M this season in the final year of his rookie contract, although he does not necessarily have four years of sustained success to demand a lot of money (he was traded mid-season for a second round pick, after all). Yet even for a team with a considerable opportunity to make a splash move, every dollar counts. If he is not re-signed for any reason, Payton can still be replaced through the draft, with at least two potential options at the top of the draft in Trae Young and Collin Sexton, among any number of other point guards who might come out of nowhere to become legitimate players in the league.

While stating Elfrid Payton is better than Jason Kidd in a broader sense is one of worthy ridicule, through eight games, there is no better comparison of Payton than Kidd in a statistical sense.

If Payton can keep these numbers up, he will most certainly make Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough’s decision regarding retention that much more difficult. Can he draft a player that could average a near triple-double over the course of season, especially one that already has four more years of NBA growth and experience than an incoming rookie? Likely not.

On the flip side of that token, however, McDonough must take into consideration that the numbers Payton is currently enjoying could very well be inflated, posing the difficult question of, is this the new  Elfrid Payton, or just someone who took advantage of a young roster in flux in a new Conference; someone who has been up to this point just an average point guard in the NBA.

Next: T.J. Warren's future must be in Phoenix

There is no doubt, though, that if this is the new Elfrid Payton; if he actually can be a 15p/7r/7a player game in and game out; and if a contract extension can be had at a reasonable rate, then they have themselves the next Jason Kidd.

The defining difference being: Jason Kidd never had Devin Booker.