1. Gary Payton II, PG, Oregon State
Payton is a player who hasn’t gotten much love through the draft process, but he has the size and athleticism to potentially make it as an NBA guard. Payton did a little of everything while leading Oregon State to their first NCAA tournament in two decades this past season, averaging 16.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 2.5 steals as the one-man show for the Beavers. And while he’s 23-years old with limited upside, he still has some skills that could help him at the next level.
Payton isn’t going to have the same success offensively in the NBA that he did in college. He struggles to score in the halfcourt, playing with poor discipline and struggling to convert on shots away from the rim. His shooting stroke is concerning, as he hit just 31.9 percent on three-point attempts last season, and just 64.7 percent on free throws. He also could stand to grow as a playmaker, as he struggles to make harder decisions and more often opts to take it himself and try to make something happen.
However, he’s a solid defensive prospect, with a 6’8″ wingspan and excellent quickness and athleticism to set him up to be a good perimeter defender. Payton is active and aggressive on the defensive end, posting very good steal numbers and entering the draft as the best rebounding guard in this class (9.3 rebounds per 40 minutes). He gives up penetration at times and needs to improve his overall discipline, but Payton’s physical tools are there. If he can be a reliable defender, that opens him up to be a very good weapon in transition, his biggest redeeming offensive quality. Payton has great touch around the rim and is explosive in the open court, and he makes good decisions here, both on and off the ball.
Payton is on the older end of the spectrum for draft prospects this year, but for a team looking for defensive help in the backcourt and a dose of athleticism, Payton could be a nice fit. If he can develop a little bit more as a decision-maker and grasp NBA defensive concepts, he could be a nice steal in the late second round for a team like Chicago (No. 48) or Atlanta (No. 54).
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