The 6'10", 240-pound power forward was among the top 20 players available in this year's class, according to ESPN NBA analyst Chad Ford, who projected Payne (subscription required) to come off the board somewhere in the middle of Round 1.
Meanwhile, NBA.com's David Aldridge ranked Payne as the sixth-best power forward available, calling him a late first-round pick.
In May, Ford explained why he believed Payne was one of the draft's more underrated prospects:
Payne has to be one of the most intriguing players in this draft. He has a unique combination of size, athleticism, an NBA body and a prolific jump shot. How many players in the league can be equally effective in the paint or on the perimeter on offense and have the ability to guard the screen-and-roll on defense? OKC's Serge Ibaka might be the closest comparison, but Payne already is a better shooter (though Ibaka is a much better shot-blocker).
Coupling Payne with Al Horford gives the Hawks depth down low. A 23-year-old who spent all four years of eligibility playing for Tom Izzo's Spartans, Payne improved each season since his freshman year in 2010-11. He averaged 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds on 50.3 percent shooting from the field this past season in East Lansing.
The big man is not only explosive but has also developed into an efficient outside shooter, converting 42.3 percent of his threes last year.
"I was tired all the time," Payne said. "I would come into the locker room at halftime and be struggling to catch my breath. I didn't know what was wrong. I didn't want to get out of bed in the morning, but I just thought I had to. When I found out it was mono, everything made sense."
In addition to his shooting prowess and leaping ability, he boasts length and quickness. Both traits allow him to make his presence felt defensively and on the boards, where he can alter shots and beat his man off the floor.
His game has very few weaknesses, but adding some bulk wouldn't hurt his chances of success in the NBA, where he'll come across stronger forwards and centers on a nightly basis.
But even that's nitpicking, as Payne possesses tremendous value in the Association as a stretch 4. With many teams looking to play small and space the floor with shooters in today's NBA, his combination of size and shooting makes him a coveted prospect.
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