Darius Morris: Does the L.A. Lakers Rookie Have Gary Payton-Like Qualities?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer INovember 22, 2011

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 20:  Darius Morris #4 of the Michigan Wolverines moves the ball while taking on the Duke Blue Devils during the third round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 20, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

There are some Los Angeles Lakers fans who feel the team solved its future point guard issues by drafting Michigan guard Darius Morris in the second round of the 2011 NBA draft, and someone even mentioned to me that Morris' game reminds them of former Seattle Sonics and Lakers guard Gary Payton.


I think it's ridiculous to compare any player who has never graced the court for an NBA minute to any professional player, and what makes it worse is Payton is not just any NBA player.

For those who don't know, Payton can stake a legitimate claim as one of the NBA's greatest point guards of all time, and in many circles he's known as the best defensive guard to ever play the game, period.

That's not all.

Before Payton was "The Glove," he was one of college basketball's most prolific scorers at Oregon State University, and his ability to fill up the basket is something Payton brought with him when he transitioned to the pros.

None other than Lakers great Gail Goodrich once said that Payton was one of the most complete guards he has ever seen, and Payton is one of the only players to record more than 20,000 points, 8,000 assists and 2,000 steals for his career.

Payton was definitely an above-average offensive player, but what really made him legendary was his tenacious defense.

Trash talk was Payton's calling card, but he backed it up with one of the most impressive defensive skill sets I have ever seen in a point guard.

Defensively, Payton played the passing lanes well and was a superior individual defender, and his entire approach was based on sound defensive technique and fundamentals.

For those of us who were lucky enough to see Payton play, that last little tidbit about technique and fundamentals sometimes gets lost in all of Payton's brashness and attitude. Make no mistake, though: Payton was a supremely skilled defender. Just ask Michael Jordan.

Payton was the one responsible for holding Jordan to a career NBA Finals-low of 22 points in Game 6 of the 1996 NBA Finals, as his 6'4" frame and quickness clearly bothered Jordan on the offensive end.

Many Sonics fans, and Bill Walton as well, wondered why the defensive switch of Payton to Jordan wasn't done sooner, when the series still mattered.

So, after absorbing all that, does anyone really believe that Morris has anything in common with the nine-time All-NBA defensive first team player and the only point guard in history to win the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award?

Absolutely not. But after a little consideration Morris and Payton do share some similar qualities beyond their height and California heritage.

It would be silly to assume that Morris will be as good defensively as Payton, but it's also impossible to ignore Morris' potential to be a decent defensive point guard.

Like Payton, Morris is long, rangy and quick, and his ability to effectively play the passing lanes is reflected by the fact that he led Michigan in steals during his final season in Ann Arbor.

Morris is not known for his offense, but he also led his team in scoring, and he finished fifth in the nation in assists at 6.7 per game.

Payton was not much of an outside shooter, but he still managed to score points by using his strength and height to overpower opponents in the post, or he simply broke them down off the dribble.

Morris was only a 25 percent shooter from three-point range during his final season at Michigan, but he was still able to shoot 48 percent from the field due to his ability to penetrate off the dribble or post smaller opponents in the paint.

Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, the NBA lockout has put any hopes of actually seeing Morris on the court on indefinite hold, and for the time being we are left to our own musings and absurd player comparisons.

While I do acknowledge that Morris and Payton do have similar traits in their games, the comparison is still absurd, and as much as I would love to see Morris live up to Payton's lofty standards, he still has to play a few games first.