Drafted by: Philadelphia 76ers, No. 10 overall pick
Traded to: Orlando Magic for Dario Saric and 2015 second-round pick
Height/Weight: 6'4", 185 lbs
Age: 20 years old
Projected NBA Position: Point Guard
Pro Comparison: Rajon Rondo
Twitter Handle: @e___payton
Elfrid Payton used the 2013-14 season to shoot up draft boards after failing to make much of an impression during his high school career or his first two seasons with the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns.
He wasn't even ranked by ESPN's Recruiting Nation coming out of high school, but he sure made the most of his role with ULL over the last year. He became the unquestioned leader of the Cajuns, leading them into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005.
With the national spotlight upon him for the first time, he thrived as a big and versatile guard, one who could make equal contributions in the scoring column, on the glass and by involving his teammates, limited as they may have been.
Now a virtual lock for the first round, the 20-year-old is one of the premier point guard prospects in this loaded draft class. Scouts and front offices are realizing that his production is far more important than the lackluster competition he routinely torched.
The first thing you notice when watching Payton is just how big he is, and that's one of the major advantages he'll hold at the next level.
Not only is the floor general 6'4", which allows him to see over most defenders he'll be matched up against in the Association, but his wingspan measured an impressive 6'8" at the draft combine. Long arms like that help Payton terrorize opposing ball-handlers while giving him the ability to assert himself on the glass.
As an athlete, he stands out as well.
He can elevate well enough to finish plays at the rim, and his quickness—both laterally and in the open court—is impressive. He's not quite one of the new breed of uber-athletes who line up in the backcourt, but he's not far off that status either.
If there's one physical area that could stand to improve, it's his strength. He can be pushed around by non-point guards if he gets switched over onto them—which he often did with Louisiana-Lafayette—and contact at the hoop can sometimes throw him off his game.
Payton might have spent his collegiate career suiting up in the Sun Belt, but he managed to take advantage of that on a regular basis. At the end of the 2013-14 campaign, he was rewarded for his efforts by winning the conference's Defensive Player of the Year award, largely due to his 2.3 steals and 0.6 blocks per game.
Not only does he remain intense when settling down into his stance, but he flashes tremendous instincts, allowing him to poke away the ball when it's being handled without much care and to jump into passing lanes without a moment of hesitation.
But perhaps most importantly, Payton has quick feet on defense. He moves laterally with ease and shows an uncanny knack for working around screens without getting caught up in the pick. Given the pick-and-roll-heavy nature of NBA offenses, that'll work in his advantage and ease his transition to the sport's highest level.
Additionally, he was routinely used by the Cajuns as a versatile defender who could switch onto any position from point guard through power forward. During the team's only NCAA tournament game, he even spent some time successfully guarding Doug McDermott, which is no easy task.
That's the type of ball-handling skill that Payton possesses, as his crossover is just about the most devastating you can find in collegiate basketball.
But as Mike Schmitz notes for DraftExpress.com, there's just as much substance as flashiness:
Payton is a very good ball-handler, which makes him an excellent transition threat and allows him to get into the paint very effectively. He can create his own shot and break down defenders in pick and roll and one situations, showing good potential in this area as he continues to mature and polishes up his skill-level.
Regardless of the situation, Payton has the ability to make things happen when the ball is in his hands. He's the type of player who will end up receiving plenty of touches, as he can distribute the ball effectively and create his own looks regardless of the offensive set.
For a player who spends so much time seeking out the rim, being able to dribble past defenders is quite important.
Payton is quite similar to Michael Carter-Williams when it comes to crashing the boards.
He seems to relish the opportunities to pull down rebounds, often exerting energy to fight around box outs. After all, it makes sense for him to get the ball in his hands as quickly as possible, seeing as he's deadly in transition and can quite easily go coast to coast.
Payton averaged six rebounds per game during his junior season, and they were fairly evenly distributed between the offensive and defensive ends of the court. It's the third year in a row he's excelled on the glass, so it's safe to assume this isn't a fluke, based both on statistical evidence and the eye test.
MCW, by comparison, averaged 1.1 fewer rebounds per 40 minutes, per Sports-Reference.com, and then collected 6.2 boards per game with the Philadelphia 76ers as a rookie. Should Payton receive as much playing time as the reigning Rookie of the Year, he could make a similar impact.
While Payton can capably hit pull-up jumpers from mid-range spots and score in transition, he lacks a reliable perimeter jumper.
During his junior season, the point guard knocked down just 25.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and attempted only 1.5 shots per game from that range. Right now, defenders are able to go under screens, as he's not the least bit threatening as a three-point marksman.
The shooting woes have also shown up at the charity stripe, where Payton hit just 60.9 percent of his attempts during his final go-round with the Cajuns. Until he fixes those problems, defenses are going to give him the Rondo treatment, sagging off in an attempt to dare him into shooting while cutting off some of the passing lanes he finds so well.
Additionally, he must be more careful with the ball.
He's prone to falling asleep while in possession of the rock and waiting for something to develop, which allows him to be stripped by an adept defender. His passes can also be lazy when they aren't directly leading to an assist.
If he's not careful, he'll have a serious turnover problem at the next level.
Payton isn't the type of player who will need a lengthy stint in the D-League to ease his transition from the Sun Belt to the NBA. After all, he has one highly marketable tool that can immediately land him a spot in any team's rotation: defense.
Right away, the floor general should be comfortable harassing opposing ball-handlers, and he's likely going to get the nod whenever a coach needs to employ a full-court press. Plus, his ability to navigate screens will help him excel right off the bat.
As for his offense, it won't be so easy for him to find lanes to the hoop, but he's a good-enough ball-handler that he won't be a liability while honing his outside stroke. Consider him a situational rotation member during his rookie season.
This all depends on how his jumper develops.
If Payton is able to become a competent shooter—not even a great one—then he'll be significantly more dangerous on the offensive end. After all, defenses would no longer sag off him in an attempt to dare him to loft up an ill-advised jumper, and he could make good use of his quick first step and great handles.
But if he never figures out that stroke, he's going to remain a limited player—a valuable one, because of his defense, but a limited one nonetheless.
Chances are that he'll improve the jumper throughout his NBA career, though not to the point that he'll become a dynamic offensive player. Expect him to be a quality two-way contributor whose bread and butter will be his ability to settle down and prevent the opposition from getting any easy buckets out of the backcourt.