While the New York Knicks overachieved by finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference, Payton struggled through one of the worst years of his career.
Through his first six years, the 2014 first-round pick had never finished with fewer than 6.2 assists per game. In 63 appearances this past season, he dished out just 3.2 assists per game as Julius Randle shouldered more of the playmaking burden and Derrick Rose's arrival ate into his playing time.
Payton continued to struggle as a shooter, too. He hit just 28.6 percent of his three-pointers, and a little more than 44.2 percent of his 622 overall attempts came inside the restricted area, per NBA.com.
Attacking the basket with regularity isn't necessarily a bad approach, but it isn't the most efficient one for a career 63.0 percent free-throw shooter—the 27-year-old went 68.2 percent from the charity stripe in 2020-21.
The 6'3" guard did provide solid defense out of the backcourt. He sat fourth among point guards in ESPN's defensive real plus-minus (plus-2.50) and held opposing shooters to 38.4 percent from beyond the arc, per NBA.com.
His best showing came in a 130-110 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 27, when he finished with 27 points, seven assists, three rebounds and one steal.
In general, Payton is probably miscast as a starting option for a team with playoff aspirations. The Knicks made it work because they finished fourth in defensive rating (107.8) to offset the fact that they were 22nd in offensive rating (110.2), according to NBA.com.
The Louisiana alum would be far more effective during a time in the league when point guards aren't expected to be proficient scorers in addition to their playmaking duties.
Payton is nonetheless a solid presence in Phoenix's backcourt rotation. Since entering the NBA, he's 16th in assist percentage (32.9) among players with at least 100 appearances. He can orchestrate the offense on one end of the floor and harass guards on the other end.