Since being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, rookie power forward Adreian Payne seems poised to take on a much bigger role, more so than he ever had with the Atlanta Hawks, where he was frequently shuffled to and from the NBA Development League.
Opportunity has been abundant for Payne in the five games he’s appeared in since joining the Timberwolves but many questions remain about his game, particularly surrounding his scoring ability. Payne has struggled to score from everywhere on the floor, hitting only eleven of the thirty-nine field goals he has attempted. His true shooting percentage is currently a brutal 31.2 percent, while his three-point field goal percentage is an equally cringe-worthy 16.7.
Payne has great potential as a stretch four if he can consistently knock down outside shots, something he obviously has not been able to do in the early going based on the aforementioned numbers. He has failed to convert on multiple wide-open jumpers from all over the floor, as you can see in the video below.
A pick and pop big man like Payne can only be effective if he is consistently making the defense respect him. (Learning how to consistently set a hard, solid screen wouldn’t hurt). Going forward, the Timberwolves will expect his shooting percentages to rise drastically, as they should.
As a senior at Michigan State, Payne shot 42.3 percent from beyond the arc, which is likely more representative of his ability as a shooter. Perhaps Payne’s early shooting woes in Minnesota can be attributed to rust. After all, it’s tough to go from playing almost no meaningful minutes for half of a season to being thrust into the rotation without any warning. When he fully gets his legs back under him and acclimates to the speed of actual NBA games, Payne’s jumper could easily begin to fall more often and remind people of his days on the court as a Spartan.
Unfortunately for Payne and the Timberwolves, though, his early struggles have not been limited to his jumper. In his senior season at Michigan State, Payne showed that he could consistently score in the post, both with his back to the basket and facing up to his defender.
Thus far in the NBA, Payne’s post game has been stifled. With his back to the basket, he hasn’t consistently demonstrated that he has the strength necessary to establish deep position and back his man down. He has not demonstrated much outside of basic post moves, either. Length has bothered him on drives to the rim, and he has made it easy to defend him by trying to get to the rim in a straight line seemingly every time.
To succeed in the post in the NBA, Payne will need to develop more advanced moves with his back to the basket and off the dribble. He deserves some slack because he is a rookie still trying to soak everything up, but his post struggles are more concerning than his shooting struggles. That’s not to say Payne will forever struggle in the post as an NBA player, because that would be a gross exaggeration given the small sample size we are currently working with. However, if teams can consistently throw small forwards at him without risking him taking advantage of them as has happened too frequently thus far, that could be problematic for his overall effectiveness on offense. He must demonstrate that he can take advantage of bigs by drawing them out to the perimeter as well as smaller forwards by manhandling them in the post.
All has not been doom and gloom for Payne in Minnesota. He has shown flashes of what made him so great at Michigan State, whether that be flawlessly executing the pick and pop before knocking down a three or grabbing an offensive rebound and throwing down a ferocious two-hand slam. The problem has been frequency, or rather infrequency, of those events.
Payne and Minnesota are both counting on the scoring woes subsiding as he adjusts to the high level of play in the NBA. Given Payne’s shooting numbers in college and the comfortability that frequently comes with increased court time, it’s not unreasonable to expect Payne to begin trending in the right direction sooner rather than later.