Photo by Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Who Is: Elfrid Payton

The going thought entering this year’s NBA Draft was that the Magic needed to get a point guard. Whether that would be Dante Exum or Marcus Smart with the fourth pick, it was clearly time to move on from Jameer Nelson and turn the reigns over to someone else. That very well could have been Victor Oladipo, but nobody saw his future permanently at point guard.

So the team would turn to this Draft. With Exum still on the board, though, the Magic drafted Aaron Gordon. Surely with their 12th pick they would take a point guard — and there were a lot that would be available at that range. In the end, Orlando traded the 12th pick, Dario Saric, to Philadelphia for Elfrid Payton.

Quite clearly, considering the Magic also gave up a first and second-round pick, they targeted Payton and wanted him on their roster. This was the guy they clearly had targeted.

It would be easy to excuse if maybe everyone in the nation knew who he was. Payton played at small Louisiana-Lafayette where he averaged 19.2 points per game and 5.9 assists per game on 50.9 percent field goal shooting. Those numbers can be a bit deceiving because of his competition and especially considering his shaky jumper.

Payton though has proven he can play at an elite level. He played alongside Marcus Smart at point guard for the USA U19 team at the FIBA U19 Championship, where he formed a close friendship and chemistry with Aaron Gordon.

It was pretty clear from watching him play in Summer League, that Payton has the potential to be a pretty solid player. He gained confidence with each success he had and got better as the week went on. He has the potential of dropping a Jason Kidd triple double (21 of his triple doubles came when he scored less than 15 points, grabbed fewer than 12 rebounds and dished out fewer than 12 assists. . . there have been only 150 since 1986; Darrell Walker, Lance Stephenson, Alvin Robertson and Andre Iguodala have four to tie for second in that time behind Kidd).

Elfird Payton put up consistent numbers that filled the stat sheet at ULL and Summer League. Photo by Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Elfrid Payton put up consistent numbers that filled the stat sheet at ULL and Summer League. Photo by Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

I do not mean to put Jason Kidd-level expectations on Payton. He has the potential to put up those kind of consistent across-the-board numbers.

What really stands out about Payton is that he has long, rangy arms and the physical tools to be a great defender in the league. His ball-handling and size are already good enough to help him get into the paint and wreak havoc with defenses. And he is athletic enough to be a major threat as a slasher or in transition.

Those are good building blocks to have to start out with.

The Good: Payton is a playmaker, that much has been made clear in the brief bit we saw him at Summer League earlier this month and throughout his career at Lafayette. The one thing that consistently stood out was how Payton learned and adapted to the defense. After his first game when he struggled so much, Payton seemed just to get better and better. The game started really slowing down for him and he was able to run the team successfully. His defensive instincts also kicked in as he used his athleticism and length to hound other guards. Those were all things we knew about Payton after his college days. And his quick rise certainly leaves some desire for consistency. But it was also clear pretty early that he has the quiet confidence and the willingness to learn to get there.

The Bad: Payton’s biggest issue is that he is not a great scorer. Sure, Payton got into the paint as much as any player in college basketball and put up some nice scoring numbers. Shooting 54.1 percent on 2-pointers as a guard is a good thing. He got to the line 8.6 times per game as a senior. But his field goal shooting is not particularly strong. Neither is his free throw shooting. Payton shot 60.9 percent from the line last season and just 25.9 percent from beyond the arc. The college 3-point line at that. Defenses are going to make Payton prove he can shoot over the op of them and make it very, very difficult for him to get into the lane. At this point, that is a lot of Payton’s game with the ball in his hands. He is good at running the pick and roll, but you will need to do more. It will still take him some time to adjust to NBA speed and defenses.

Draft Sites Say:

NBADraft.netTall, quick and talented offensive point guard … Deadly first step and killer crossover allow him to get to the basket seemingly at will … At 6’3″, has ideal size for a point guard. While his jumper isn’t horrible, he needs to improve his consistency and range from the outside to diversify his game … Not a factor from behind the arc at this point … Subpar free throw shooter for a point guard, at under 70% on the year.

Matt Kamalsky of Elfrid Payton‘s strengths and weaknesses are fairly cut and dry on paper. Payton played a high usage role ranking 3rd among point guard prospects using 20.9 possessions per-game. He finished 1st among his peers using 5.1 possessions per-game in transition and shooting 63.4% on the break as his size and athleticism made him a dynamic threat in space in the Sun Belt conference. Despite ranking 3rd shooting 45.2% from the field in the half court, he finished 3rd last scoring .828 points per-half court possession.

NBA Draft Room: A lead guard who fills up the stat sheet. Very good passer, rebounder and defender who can also score in the lane. Knows his limits as a shooter and doesn’t force a lot of outside shots.

Alex Kennedy, Basketball Insiders: The Magic finally have their point guard of the future – a 6’4, 20-year-old with a 6’8 wingspan, who averaged 19.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.3 steals last season while leading Louisiana-Lafayette to the NCAA Tournament. They also managed to land one of the draft’s best athletes in Gordon with the fourth pick. The fact that Orlando landed both Gordon and Payton is no coincidence, as the two players actually go way back. Payton could turn out to be one of the sleepers of this draft class. He has ideal measurables for the point guard position with excellent ball handling skills. He is an absolute terror in transition, using his speed and ball skills to get to the basket.

Chris Mannix, Sports Illustrated: There is no faster riser in this draft than Payton, the mid-major star who is a high-level defender. It’s almost a lock that the Magic take a point guard here, and they will have a solid group (including Tyler Ennis and Shabazz Napier) to choose from. But Payton’s size, defense and slashing scoring potential make him a strong candidate to be selected by Orlando GM Rob Hennigan, an Oklahoma City alum who was part of the team that drafted Russell Westbrook.

Joe Kotoch, Sheridan Hoops: Payton reminds me a bit of Rondo in that he is a long, athletic point guard that is a relentless defender and fills up the stat sheet. Payton has plenty of work to do offensively and must become a better shooter.  At this point, Payton is shooting up boards based on excellent workouts. Payton recently matched up against Marcus Smart in Sacramento and looked very impressive, according to scouts. With the Magic adding a big with their first pick, expect them to address their backcourt here. Pairing Payton with Victor Oladipo would be intriguing. Jusuf Nurcic or Clint Capela are options here as well, as I think the Magic are open to a draft and stash player. The Kings at 8 are very much in play for Payton as well.

Matt Moore, CBS Sports: Let’s get crazy! Payton has set the workouts on fire the last few weeks. I’m not sold on him based on the fact he can’t hit the broad side of a barn from beyond five feet. But he’s a pure point, the only one in this draft, and while they like Oladipo with the ball, they’ll like him next to Payton even more.

Ed Isaacson, RotoWorld: He’s a strong defender, rebounder and distributor, and though he needs to improve as a perimeter shooter, he has a great ability to put pressure on defenses with his penetration ability. In a few years, a Payton-Oladipo backcourt could be one of best young ones in the league.

Steve Alexander, RotoWorld: The Magic are overloaded at forward, set at shooting guard and center, and could be ready to let Payton and Exum battle it out for point guard duties. Exum is getting all the hype right now, but Payton would likely push him if they were both battling for the starting job next season.

Tyler Jamieson, Sports XChange: Once relatively unknown, Payton has skyrocketed up everyone’s draft boards with his pre-draft workouts, and would provide some depth at the point for the Magic depending on what they do with Jameer Nelson.

Paul Coro, Arizona Republic: He is a good-sized point guard who plays well in transition and is an active defender. He is a mid-major sleeper whose stock should rise in workouts.

Final Word: Payton is the exact kind of player that fits the Magic’s mentality. He is a hard worker who really came from nothing to be the player he is. He could not have imagined being the 10th overall pick after he graduated from Louisiana-Lafayette. But he let his play do the talking rather than any preseason accolades or talk about his game. It was clear from what the Magic gave up that Payton was a player the Magic targeted. They wanted him on the roster. Enough so that they passed on Dante Exum at No. 4, the player most had the Magic taking, and traded back the 76ers’ first round pick from the Dwight Howard trade plus a future second round pick. This was the point guard they wanted. A pass-first guy who will attack and look to create for others.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily