Good things come to those who wait—and bypass the draft to improve their offensive game and stock.
I think that's how the old saying goes.
But despite all that "potential," he was awfully quiet his first two years at Michigan State. Anyone with functional eyes could see the upside Payne possessed. At 6'10'', 245 pounds with shoulders you could sit on, he's a different breed of athlete than most kids at the college level.
But Payne was raw out of high school. Coach Tom Izzo only gave him nine minutes a game as a freshman and roughly 18 as a sophomore. It was enough time to flash his upside, but not enough to convince anyone he was capable of reaching it.
Payne finally earned himself a full-time role as a junior, with scouts eyeing him down in what seemed like a make-or-break season for his stock.
And Payne looked good. His numbers weren't Earth-shattering, but his productivity was more consistent. He averaged 10.5 points, 7.6 boards and 1.3 blocks on 54.6 percent shooting.
And just like that, you started to hear the whispers. Payne's first-round potential became a guaranteed mention from analysts and scribes whenever he suited up.
It ultimately took him three years to relocate the first-round radar. Payne could have easily bolted after his junior season and struck while the iron was hot.
But as tempting as it sounded, Payne hadn't yet maximized his NBA draft stock. Though he made waves, there was certainly more room for him to grow with one last year in school. And thankfully, he was able to accept and recognize it.
Through eight games as a senior, we've already seen the growth that scouts have been hoping for.
Previously limited to just finishing, rebounding and shot-blocking, Payne has expanded his offensive game to the point where he's now a multidimensional threat.
Despite the 14-point beating the Spartans took from North Carolina Wednesday night, Payne put on a show for scouts, primarily in the first half.
|Versus North Carolina||6-10||16||8||1||2-4|
He scored in practically every way a big man can score.
With his size and strength, he showed off his nimble footwork off the bounce, where he was able to beat his man, tip-toe around the rim and finish easily with his left hand:
He's also learning how to position himself for buckets when he doesn't have the ball. Payne's understanding and awareness have both increased as he's gotten more reps.
Check out how he jukes James Michael McAdoo out of his shoes by faking one way and cutting the other:
What's really made Payne into a can't-miss prospect is his developing perimeter stroke. After hitting only one three combined his first two years and 16 total as a junior, Payne is currently 12-of-25 from downtown through eight games already.
He's got solid mechanics and a clean release, and at 6'10'', he's able to shoot right over any defender. The NBA guys will love his ability to stretch the floor and play the pick-and-pop game, which from a draft-stock standpoint, makes him a much more attractive and versatile option.
Between his presence on the glass, along with his appeal as a rim protector, Payne has always been able to offer teams a physical interior enforcer.
But now, he's emerged into a legitimate offensive weapon, and it's reflecting on his draft stock. He's having a big-time individual year so far, with his scoring average up over five points per game:
|Adreian Payne||Field-Goal Percentage||Points per game||Rebounds per game||Blocks per game||Three-Point Percentage|
Previously a borderline first-rounder entering the year, Payne now finds himself in position to challenge for lottery consideration. With Payne, not only do you get an immediate payoff, given his size, length and strength are all NBA-ready, but he still offers plenty of long-term upside you'd get from a freshman or sophomore.
The NBA guys love prospects who continue adding to their games each year, and Payne fits the bill as one of those prospects.
It might have taken him a little longer than he wanted to, but the wait will have been worth it. Look for Payne to battle Creighton's Doug McDermott for the top senior spot on the 2014 draft board.