It happened so fast. One day, Elfrid Payton was an intriguing yet unconvincing third-year prospect making noise in the Sun Belt Conference. The next, he's the No. 10 overall pick in the draft, a projected starter for the Orlando Magic and the franchise's hopeful long-term answer at point guard.
Based on buzz from scouts and media members, Payton was never really even considered a lottery option until a few weeks before the draft, meaning his perceived stock had risen during workouts and interviews. We may never know whether or not general manager Rob Hennigan had Payton targeted early in the process or if he was influenced during its later stages.
But it makes you wonder whether the Magic fell victim to the contagious interest that seemingly spread following the NBA combine, resulting in them reaching on Payton with a lottery pick just to fill a need.
Orlando eventually ended up having to trade that pick to land Payton after the Sixers grabbed him two spots earlier. The Magic gave Philadelphia Dario Saric, who Orlando took at No. 12, a 2015 second-rounder and a conditional 2017 first-round pick.
To meet the value associated with his price, Payton would essentially have to emerge as a cornerstone for the Magic. It seems fair to expect your lottery picks to evolve into featured members of your core.
But is that the type of player we're talking about? Or is this the fringe first-round prospect scouts had been referring to throughout most of the year?
The difference between Payton emerging as a viable starter (lottery value) and plateauing into a backup role (fringe first-round value) could actually depend on the development of arguably the most basic NBA skill: shooting.
This isn't to say Payton's career will hinge on his jumper; rather, his developmental elevator will go as far as that jumper takes him. He's an NBA contributor regardless, but the better that jumper gets, the closer Payton gets to his ceiling.
And it's a pretty high ceiling. Listed at 6'4" with a 6'8" wingspan, Payton has terrific size, length and athleticism for the position, which plays to his upside as an offensive mismatch and overwhelming defensive presence.
"I feel like I can be one of the best in the league," Payton told Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy. "It’s all going to come down to how hard I work and how it works out. I feel like I can be one of the best along with my teammates help."
ESPN.com's Michael Wallace notes how Payton's physical characteristics should "help ease his transition from unheralded star at mid-major Louisiana-Lafayette to a potential impact player at the NBA's toughest position."
But you just don't see many successful NBA point guards unable to threaten the defense as a shooter.
Considering they're typically the smallest guys on the floor, point guards need jumpers to counter the NBA's top-shelf rim protection. And despite his physical tools and 35.5" max vertical, he only finished 58 percent of his shots at the rim, per Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress, against mediocre competition in college.
With Payton, we're not just talking about inconsistent shooting—his jumper barely works. According to DraftExpress' Schmitz, this past season, he hit just 4 of 22 (18 percent) catch-and-shoot jumpers, 15 of 55 (27 percent) jumpers off the dribble and 17 of 66 attempts total inside the arc.
Outside the arc, he made just 14 of 54 threes (25.9 percent) after 16-of-50 (32 percent) shooting as a sophomore and 0-of-8 shooting as a freshman.
And despite his incredible ability to get to the free-throw line (took 8.6 free throws a game this past season), he's never finished a year above 65 percent.
Payton's .62 points per possession on jumpers ranked last amongst point guards in DraftExpress' top-100 database.
Through three years at the mid-major level, Payton showed little to no progress shooting the rock.
However, in the meantime, he tightened and polished up the rest of his game, leading to averages of 19.2 points, six boards and 5.9 assists his final year at Louisiana-Lafayette. Payton has been nearly automatic on the break, while his floor game as a passer and playmaker have both reached new heights.
Despite hitting just one three-pointer in five Orlando Summer League games, Payton looked pretty sharp otherwise, having showcased his explosiveness off the bounce, scoring prowess in the lane and facilitating instincts in the drive-and-dish and pick-and-roll games. He finished the event with averages of 9.2 points, seven assists and 5.2 boards on 59.3 percent shooting.
Payton certainly has the potential to emerge as that long-term answer at point guard, and he's got some heavy production in college and Summer League to back it up. I like Devin Harris (in his prime) as a safe NBA comparison.
Other than shooting, he really checks out across the board, from his physical tools and devastating attack game to his playmaking instincts and defense. Payton has one glaring weakness, and it happens to be one that can improve with reps and time.
And only time will tell whether or not Payton's shooting stroke will eventually click, but if it does, Hennigan's gamble in the 2014 draft—passing on higher-profile guards Dante Exum and Marcus Smart with the No. 4 overall pick—could look pretty slick a few years down the road.