Completing his meteoric rise up draft boards, Louisiana-Lafayette point guard Elfrid Payton was selected by Philadelphia 76ers with the 10th overall pick Thursday night.
A year ago at this time, Payton was competing at the World Championships with USA's Under-19 team. He had potential, certainly, but when it came to the 2014 NBA draft for the small-school standout, he wasn't anything more than "on the radar."
That quickly changed, as he consistently filled up box scores to the tune of 19.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.3 steals per contest during the 2013-14 campaign.
He led Louisiana-Lafayette through the Sun Belt Tournament to book a spot in the Big Dance against Doug McDermott and Creighton. The Ragin' Cajuns fell, 76-66, but Payton had 24 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks, cementing himself as a legitimate NBA prospect.
Which takes us to a couple of months ago, when most agreed Payton would be hearing his name near the end of the first round.
He's a tantalizing prospect, with the electrifying quickness and ball-handling on offense, and the size (just under 6'4" with a 6'8" wingspan) and lateral speed on defense to be an effective two-way player.
The only concern: his shooting.
Payton made just 30 three-pointers at a 26.8 percent clip during his collegiate career. Even more worrisome, he shot 61.1 percent from the charity stripe.
A combination of six anonymous NBA scouts, via Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis, were quite harsh with their evaluation:
Can't shoot a lick -- like at all. That's a huge glaring negative. He'll be one of the better defenders in this draft. Gets into the paint whenever he wants. He's getting a lot of buzz, but I'm not big on the guy. Point guards that can't shoot, that's a tough thing."
Then the workouts started, and with each new one, Payton's stock continued to rise.
It wasn't really surprising. Payton's athleticism, toughness and unmatched competitiveness are all traits that translate well to workouts. However, as Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy noted, it all came back to his shooting:
Elfrid Payton believes his stock is up because he's shooting well in workouts. Teams knew he could do everything else - shot surprised them.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 23, 2014
ESPN's Jeff Goodman noted another reason for his rapid ascent up draft boards:
The biggest mover over the past month or so in draft has been Elfrid Payton -- fast, athletic point guards all the rage these days in NBA.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) June 23, 2014
It's reminiscent of Damian Lillard, really. The dynamic point guard was a stud at Weber State and had plenty of suitors. However, after playing at a small school, it wasn't until scouts got to see him up close and personal at workouts that his stock seriously took off.
Speaking of Lillard, he's a believer in Payton's talent:
Don't sleep on Elfrid Payton... I watched couple of his games . He can hoop— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) June 17, 2014
While making the same kind of instant impact as the 2013 Rookie of the Year and 2014 All-Star is a lot to ask, Payton has all the tools—both physical and mental—to produce at a high level very soon for Brett Brown and his staff.
ULL head coach Bob Marlin, via The Baltimore Sun's Mike Klingaman, put it simply:
He's a super penetrator who plays with both a chip on his shoulder and extreme confidence. Elfrid has his dad's fire as well as a maturity which is helping him to move up the [draft] ladder. Most guys don't know where they want to be next week; this kid has the next 10 years mapped out.
Payton's stock soared in the last month. If he develops a consistent jump shot, though, teams at the top of the draft will be wishing it soared just a little more.
As it stands, his athleticism should translate very well to the NBA, making him one of the more exciting prospects to watch in 2014-15.