Elfrid Payton, a 6’4” point guard out of Louisiana-Lafayette, was one of three prospects invited back for a second time for a Lakers predraft workout on June 20—the others being Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Arizona’s Aaron Gordon.
As Mark Medina for the Los Angeles Daily News reported afterward: “A team source that witnessed Payton’s workout gushed about his playmaking, believing he struck a great balance in showing strong court vision while staying patient.”
Payton was originally thought to be a late first-round pick but has earned an invite to sit in the green room at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Thursday, June 26—an honor reserved for 21 top prospects.
Writing about the pride of Gretna, Louisiana, John Reid for the New Orleans Times-Picayune shared the opinion of Ryan Blake, the NBA’s director of scouting:
I really like this kid because he can make a difference on both ends of the floor. I think he will have a chance to get minutes early because of his ability to cause chaos on defense, rebound and run the point and find the right man. I think he's a guy that plays with maturity and confidence.
The Lakers hold the No. 7 pick in a deep and talented draft that has become surprisingly volatile as of late.
Joel Embiid, once seen as a potential No. 1 overall pick, had foot surgery on Friday, and nobody knows how far he could slip. Dante Exum, Marcus Smart and Noah Vonleh have all trended up recently, while Julius Randle has slipped a couple notches.
Payton has length, athleticism and an electrifying intensity. What he doesn’t have is an outside shooter’s touch. This season, the Ragin' Cajuns junior averaged 19.2 points, 6.0 boards and 5.9 assists per game but only shot .259 from beyond the arc.
Shooting is something that can be improved upon.
The rangy point guard with a 6’8” wingspan also worked out recently for the Orlando Magic with the Nos. 4 and 12 overall picks, the Boston Celtics with the No. 6 pick and the Sacramento Kings with the No. 8 pick.
The odds of the Lakers taking Payton at No. 7 seem slight. Yet it’s just days before the draft and Chad Ford for ESPN Insider (subscription required) now has the guard as his No. 8 choice.
Ford recently appeared on ESPN2 with Keith Olbermann, describing his sleeper pick as “a Damian Lillard from a small school that turns out to maybe be one of the best players in this draft.”
During the Lakers’ first predraft workout, general manager Mitch Kupchak spoke about the depth of this year’s class and the possibility of adding an extra selection (per Lakers.com):
We’d still like to add to our draft selection. Could we move this pick and get multiple picks? Maybe. Could you buy a pick? Or trade a future pick for a present pick? Yeah, that’s possible. I think picks now are more valuable than they were, so I think it’s not as easy as it used to be, but I think that’s still a possibility.
Kupchak also mentioned that a majority of top prospects are one-and-done, resulting in a limited opportunity to scout them through college. Payton, however, entered Louisiana-Lafayette at age 17 and now has three full seasons of NCAA experience under his belt, despite being only 20.
And then there was his Team USA opportunity. Payton caught the attention of a lot of scouts as a surprise addition to USA Basketball’s under-19 squad last summer, where he was the starting point guard on a team that captured the FIBA U19 World Championship gold medal.
Can a ferocious defender with fluid ball-handling skills jump all the way from a fringe first-round presence to the best Lakers draft pick in a generation?
Or could he slip in through an alternate door in the event Los Angeles trades down or buys a pick?
A small-college star from New Orleans' West Bank will likely be some team’s sleeper pick on Thursday night.
But can he wind up wearing purple and gold?