For what it's worth, Adreian Payne shouldn't be entering his senior season at Michigan State.
The former 5-star prospect, per Rivals, left Jefferson High (Dayton, Ohio) ranked as the No. 3 center of 2010, behind only former Syracuse star Fabricio de Melo and Ohio State standout Jared Sullinger, both made an early jump to the NBA.
With national player of the year potential and a rising stock among bigs, at 6'10" and 245 pounds, Payne has certainly come a long way since high school. He's added about 30 pounds, fine-tuned his game and is considered one of the elite powers in college hoops today.
He's fulfilling the scouting reports. He's probably a year behind schedule, but as the saying goes, "good things come to those who wait." Payne is on pace to deliver the goods—ideally in the form of a Final Four run—and close his career with a storied season.
From Prep Power to Entry-Level
Payne had the type of high school career indicative of a star-to-be. As a senior, he led Jefferson to a Division IV state title, averaging 15.6 points, 11.3 rebounds and four blocks per game en route to capturing Ohio Player of the Year honors.
As a freshman at MSU in 2010-11, Payne was expected to make an immediate impact, but that didn't happen as planned. He scored 10 or more points just twice that season and was a virtual no-show during the Spartans' first-round tournament loss to UCLA, in which he went 0-for-2 with four fouls.
Making mistakes and learning from them was the early theme of his career. Payne often wore the look of a deer trapped in the glow of oncoming headlights. However, his raw talent often trumped his slip ups and lack of awareness on the court.
The following is an excerpt from NBA Draft Net's profile on the prep Payne, written in 2008 shortly after the Adidas Nations experience:
The problem is that he’s exceptionally raw, but no one seems to have let him in on that little secret yet. He’s not an efficient player at all just yet, being very turnover prone, and his decision making seems to have the longest to go from what we can tell. Payne’s shot-selection looked brutal at times, throwing up some awful bricks on contested looks, and getting himself into serious trouble by trying to do too much with the ball in his hands. He tried to block pretty much every shot that he could too, looking fairly off with his timing, and getting himself out of position to compete for the defensive rebound.
Still, you can’t help but be intrigued about what this guy might develop into considering his natural physical tools and just how incredibly young he still is, so we definitely need to stay tuned and see how he develops over the next few years.
Developing both physically and mentally, Payne continued growing into his lanky frame and sharpening his basketball IQ. Adding muscle, speed and stamina most certainly contributed to his rise. So did additional knowledge of the sport. As a sophomore, production from Payne ramped up a few notches, but it wasn't anything spectacular.
But it was a start.
Spartans fans eagerly awaited the true arrival of their lovable giant, anticipating the day that he played up to his 5-star billing and ruled the competition in the same way he did while in high school. Slowly but surely it happened. As a junior, Payne could no longer be ignored.
Top NBA Prospects in the Big Ten, Part 4: Adreian Payne Scouting Video http://t.co/tLXNNuaxFn— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) September 19, 2013
Saying Payne has gotten better is one thing, but citing specific areas in which he's developed paints a truer portrait of his skill set.
Shooting free throws?
As a freshman and sophomore, that wasn't happening for Payne. In 2012-13, he converted nearly 85 percent of his attempts from the line, a huge jump from about 69 percent during his sophomore year.
Payne learned how to muscle his way to the line in college, which is a bit different—and much more physically challenging—than the way he got there in high school. By simply towering over the opposition, Payne benefited from frustration fouls—his competitors had no other way to stop him.
Of course, once he got to the Big Ten, he was given a dose of his own medicine and was forced to sink or swim.
Payne is swimming. The following table demonstrates Payne's rise at the line.
Stats via Payne's ESPN profile
Payne wasn't heralded as a maestro from the line while at Jefferson. Converting the freebies is just one of the additions to his game.
As for scoring, well, he's always been able to do that. He was a man among boys in high school, so it was only natural that he flexed his skill at every turn. He was a threat for 20 then; he's a threat for 20 now.
Here's the visual...
|Year||PPG||10 or more||High|
stats via Payne's ESPN profile
Payne's core strengths—rebounding and blocking—remain the same, but he's evolved into a smoother player with a well-rounded arsenal. No longer just a post threat, he's developed the ability to pick jumpers from the perimeter with great success.
One of his biggest transformations has taken place behind the three-point line. Not may 6'10" guys can knock down the long range with ease and accuracy. And who would have thought that Payne would be one of them?
That wasn't part of the deal when he left Jefferson. However, it's been a welcome surprise for coach Tom Izzo, that much is certain.
|Year||3PT%||3PM/3PA||3PM/3PA (per game)|
Stats via Payne's ESPN profile
Although he's altered his approach, Payne remains one lob away from making yet another highlight reel. Payne was recently spotted tearing down the rims during practice.
Watch the dunk show put on by Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne following Michigan State's first practice: http://t.co/YD03dnFrcQ— Diamond Leung (@diamond83) September 28, 2013
It's easy to see why writers across the board touted Payne as a raw talent. He was far from silky once he made it college, but now that he's there, he's one of the better all-around players in the NCAA. If anything can be taken from initial reports, it's this: Payne was as good as advertised; he just needed more time than guys such as Sullinger and Melo to show it.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81