With the Houston Rockets electing to focus on the front court via their 2 second round draft picks it wasn’t a surprise they signed 3 players following draft night. Arguably the most intriguing was undrafted rookie point guard Gary Payton II could turn out to be the best deal of the night.
Let’s be honest: Houston Rockets picks on the 2016 NBA Draft Chinanu Onuaku and Zhou Qi really aren’t thrilling choices. Even if both players do have some upside and raw talent to be molded there’s still a few boxes those picks fail to check:
- They are both centers: a position likely to be filled in the future by the already very young Clint Capela.
- There were (far) better options on the board that could be taken to fill real gaps in the Rockets roster, notably guard: Demetrius Jackson. Available for BOTH picks.
- Zhou Qi will only be available in 2017 due to a buyout agreement with his team the Xinjiang Flying Tigers.
- Chinanu Onuaku had to undergo a medical procedure to correct a heart rhythm before Draft Night. Even if it was a minor surgery it’s still a heart surgery.
Further Zhou Qi (as every Chinese pick or player the Rockets acquire) still needs to prove he is more than just a pick driven by market interest.
Thus the excitement and intrigue created by the signing of Gary Payton II after he went undrafted on Thursday, in part due to his basketball pedigree.
And even if the point guard’s not getting drafted raises a few red flags those might be derived specifically from his “advanced age” of 23.6 years old as only two other players who were drafted were older than GPII: Michael Gbinije (24 years old – 49th pick) and A.J. Hammons (23.8 years old – 46th pick)
For starters let’s review Payton’s measurements and stats:
(as per NBA draft combine)
- Height: 6’3″
- Weight: 184 lbs
- Country: USA
- Position: Point Guard
- Age: 23
- Reach: 8’3″
- Wingspan: 6.8″
- College or Pro League: Oregon State, Senior
- Stat line: 31 Games, 16.0 Points Per Game, 7.9 Rebounds Per Game, 5.0 Assists Per Game, 2.5 Steals Per Game, 31.9 3P%, 48.3 FG%, 64.7 FT%
First of all there’s absolutely no reason for signing a player like Gary Payton II unless the Texan team is willing to play him right now. Despite being a late bloomer, at almost 24 years old GP II needs to be an active player coming from the bench and getting steady 10-14 minutes per game.
There’s absolutely no time for him at the D-League, Payton needs to flourish in the NBA and prove to be a valuable role player from the get-go if he wants to have a career in the league.
In order for that to happen I believe the Summer League will be instrumental in determining whether the Rockets feel he is ready. There the point guard must show signs of improvement in some key aspects of his game if he wants to make the final roster.
And even if the Houston Rockets are thin in the point guard department there’s no reason to believe that the remaining spots in the roster will be filled with point guards by default. After going undrafted in both rounds of the Draft Payton II knows that his name alone won’t give him the benefit of the doubt.
Talents and Shortcomings
The OSU point guard is by every means a defensive oriented player. He’s a stopper with great instincts, excellent passing abilities and vision. His athleticism and physical build though is, particularly, very appealing.
Payton has great height for a PG (6’3”- two inches taller than Patrick Beverley) and an insane wingspan (6’8”), has explosive leaping ability, quickness and a nice 184 pounds frame. All of these attributes makes Payton an already intriguing prospect.
From the physical and athletic standpoint GP II is as good as it gets.
On the court Payton uses most of his physical gifts to crash the boards. He averaged 9.3 rebounds per 40 minutes an absolutely absurd stat for a point guard.
To wit, he’s also amazing stealing the ball and was ranked 2nd in steals per 40 minutes trailing only Kris Dunn. He applies pressure on the attacker with active hands, clogs the lanes and disrupts passes due to his quick feet and aggressiveness.
Payton could also become a great player in the NBA when switching on pick-and-roll situations due to his ability of guarding taller players once again thanks to his explosiveness and leaping abilities.
Meanwhile his offensive game definitely needs some polish though.
Payton is great driving the basket using his speed in transition, leading fast breaks and finishing inside the paint or attacking the rim. He’s also not turnover prone and does a decent job distributing the ball on the offensive end. Payton can also catch and finish one or two handed alley-oops.
That’s where it stops though. His shooting requires vast improvements. And even if that’s a minor issue and can definitely be taught it does raise some problems right off the bat. GP II must show improvements in the Summer League to even be considered an option for the Rockets.
Payton shot 30.2 % from distance and a very unimpressive 65.2% from the charity stripe. If Payton can develop a somewhat reliable jump shot that makes him able to finish at least in open situations then he’ll start becoming a dangerous player. It’s not crazy to think it’s entirely possible that Payton can improve his three-point % up to 35, 37% when considering that Kawhi Leonard shot 25% in his two years at San Diego and is now shooting a ridiculous 44.3% beyond the arc.
That being said Kawhi Leonard is definitely a one-of-a-kind talent while Gary Payton II is clearly not. Still, improving his shooting % is key for GP II to thrive in the league.
The Fit and Final Conclusions
His defensive prowess and skill rebounding the basket and being a pesky and aggressive guard makes it almost impossible not to draw comparisons with Houston Rockets starting point guard Patrick Beverley.
Payton though is taller, quicker and more physically gifted than Pat. On the other hand Beverley is more experienced and shoots the ball better.
But with reports that Beverley was on the trading block twice in the last week, firstly in a pack that involved Trevor Ariza for Sixers Nerlens Noel and later on Draft Night as reported by Frank Isola in an effort by Daryl Morey to move up to the 1st round, it seems that Bev’s days as a Rocket may be coming to a close:
Orlando is one of several teams pursuing Jimmy Butler. Also, Houston is trying to get into the 1st round and is offering Patrick Beverley
— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) June 23, 2016
With the Rockets incredibly thin at the point with Beverley on the trade block, Jason Terry not getting any younger and the yet unproven Andrew Goudelock this might be a great opportunity for Gary Payton II to earn some solid minutes at season start.
With time Gary Payton could definitely replace Patrick Beverley on the team, provided he develops a reliable shot.
The real issue is that neither of them is a good option to man the point and the Rockets should definitely dig deep in the market for a seasoned and talented point guard – an option would be Mike Conley, but a highly unlikely one.
A pack including Beverley to bring a better point guard with a trade is another option with GP II coming off the bench.
It’s hard to imagine GP II taking the league by assault or becoming an all-star. The likelihood of that happening is very small. Still he could become a valuable role payer for years to come and with Mike D’Antoni set to implement a fast paced team in Houston, Gary Payton with his quickness definitely has a shot to make the roster with the Rockets
A lengthy explosive guard that can defend taller players like Shaun Livingston for example – someone that the Rockets couldn’t find an answer for in the last two years – doesn’t come too often in the league and GP II is in a perfect situation with the Rockets current scenario to kick-off his career. Let’s just hope he earns and grabs the opportunities that might come his way.
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