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Pacers draft prospects: A closer look at Cameron Payne

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If the Pacers look toward the draft to bolster their backcourt, the point guard out of Murray State may be an option late in the NBA draft lottery.

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Cameron Payne, a guy who is receiving mixed opinion on where he will be drafted, but one who doesn't seem to be getting the same media attention as others. Payne is a guy w ho has some skills and weaknesses, but brings a decent amount to the table. Here's more on the guard out of Murray State.

Strengths:

  1. Passing abilities- The first clips I saw of Payne, immediately shed light on to his passing abilities. He was always looking up the floor, throwing lobs, making smart plays, and getting his teammates involved. Taking a look at his numbers backs up his outstanding passing abilities, he has a 39.5 ASST%, which according to Draft Express is 1st among their top 100. Coupled with his 7.1 assists per 40, which ranks 4th among the Draft Express 100. His ability on the pick and roll was very good too, throwing good passes from all angles. A guy with such great passing skills, makes him a valuable asset immediately in the NBA. Being able to throw passes that get teammates good open looks or easy buckets, provides serious confidence for everyone around him. It makes the team better with easier scoring chances on the fast break and in the half-court game. In terms of fast break, Payne seemed to enjoy pushing the ball in transition a big key for the future of the Pacers. Taking a look at the Pacers roster, with Watson and Hill being two solid PG's it may be hard to find space for Payne. However, adding a young talent like this with two solid PG's, offers him a chance to grow and learn in the Pacers system and as a player overall. He reminds me off of George Hill in his unselfish capacity and ability to take good plays and passes more often than not.
  2. Touch- Payne is not the most explosive athlete, but he is crafty enough to get to the rim a decent amount. He is a very smooth player, starting and stopping, changing directions, and being slick at getting around better defenders. When Payne gets to the rim, he has a great touch and floater. Payne utilized the floater more than anyone else at a rate of three per game (highest in the draft class) and made 47% of those attempted. So around the rim he is a pretty decent finisher. But, his use of the floater means he was avoiding contact and not exactly going with great strength to the rim. The use of the floater does raise some more flags as usually it does not provide opportunities for and-ones and shows he is not the best at getting all the way to the rim. The floater can be a mixed bag and not nearly as consistent as a lay-up and getting to the rim about two times a game is not exactly ideal for a guard. While it may seem that I think this a bad thing, it does show his craftiness and ability to have a soft touch which bodes well in shooting. While the use of floaters is not exactly ideal, I would not say it is a bad tendency to have. In reality, it all comes down to scoring no matter how it looks. If he continues to work on getting stronger, being that he is only 6'2 and 180, his ability to finish and get all the way to the rim will get better. Added with this touch and floater game would make a pretty deadly combo.
  3. Scoring abilities- Payne is one of those guys who you watch play and is just able to fill it up. Now while his numbers may be inflated some due to the heavy load he carried for Murray State, with a 37% usage percentage and 24.0 pts per game (2nd for Draft Express), he was still able to show he can score. As mentioned he offered the ability to be crafty and get around defenders, finishing a decent amount at the rim. Payne offered a pretty solid jump shot (more coming), that he seemingly was able to will in the basket when the Racers needed a big bucket. Payne was the man for the Racers it easy to see that he can make plays that make him stand out on the court. Coupled with his outstanding passing abilities, Payne becomes a pretty deadly threat from the perimeter. Payne was good at pulling up on the fast break on sleeping defenders, knocking down threes and mid-range jumpers. On the pick and roll he was capable at stepping back hitting the J, or getting to the rim. As mentioned, Payne was the man for the Racers and took most of the big time shots and he just seems to be able to make them go in when they need to. That's an unteachable quality that can only bring promise to the Pacers.

Mixed Section:

The two things I am adding here, could be put as either a strength or a weakness and I am really not sure what way to lean, so it goes down the middle.

  1. Defense- This is an area where Payne offered a serious mixed bag. When he was locked in, he was an outstanding defender. Payne made smart plays, showed pretty solid lateral quickness, and a knack for the ball. Payne had 125 steals over his two years at Murray and averaged 2.2 steals per 40, a very good number. With that lateral quickness he even averaged .7 blocks per 40, which for a 6'2 PG is a very good number. But, then the opposite was seen. Payne sometimes struggled to stay in front of quicker, high quality guards. He would be caught slouching and not staying in a good defensive position, leaving him vulnerable to getting blown by, which many defenders took advantage of. Payne sometimes was caught ball watching leading to late, weak, contests on jumpers. On the pick and roll he sometimes was slow, or did not at all, fight over screens leading to easy looks for the opposing teams from deep or in close. Payne showed that he would take a couple slides and basically give up on the play, which is not a good sign for defensive effort, yet other times this was hardly an issue. Due to his small size, Payne would get posted up quite often and there was nothing he could to defend the post. With the Pacers being a very defensive minded team, Payne needs to show that his ability to play solid defensive outweighs his time of low to mild effort. Defensive is a huge key for Payne to become a key part of the Pacers team and the chemistry that the team holds.
  2. Shooting Ability- Payne shot a solid percentage while at Murray with 43% per game and a true shooting percentage of 57% (which is really good). Now these numbers are very solid, however he was inconsistent at times. His jump shot is very low and pushy (Steph Curry-esque) and which leads to some inconsistency as you really never known what is going to happen. The low release point also leaves him open to getting blocked quite often by bigger point guards. However, his true shooting percentage speaks for itself showing he is a pretty solid jump shooter. As mentioned he just seems to have the ability to make the big shots when the count and in reality, that is all that matters. Payne's shooting ability can continue to improve as he gets adjusted to playing the NBA and he can easily get hot and really fill it up. For the Pacers, a scoring PG is a good thing, as it offers relief from the load that George feels he needs to carry. Hill was a big scorer this past season and adding another solid scorer provides a solid lift.

Weaknesses:

  1. Size- Payne needs to get stronger, plain and simple. His 180 pound frame does not cut it for the NBA. Bigger PG's will take advantage of his ability to handle their bigger size. Specifically in the post, where he really struggled most often. If Payne does not get bigger it becomes more difficult to see him as a long term point guard in the league, with the physical beating the players take night in and night out. His size helps him defensively on the bloc and on the offensive end adds to his ability to finish at the rim.
  2. Athleticism- Payne is not the fastest, most explosive player around. When he faced higher level competition at times Payne struggled to get around the quick defenders. Which raises serious questions for the NBA as the competition will greatly improve. Also on the offensive end his ability to get all the way to the rim is mixed, and against the higher level defenders, this was a tough challenge for Payne. At the Point Guard position, being a super athletic and explosive player is an important quality in creating opportunities for teammates and for themselves in one on one opportunities against the defenders in the world.
  3. Competition- At this point, Payne has a lot of questions still surrounding him. Payne's competition was very weak. The Ohio Valley Conference, which the Racers play in, make Payne's number seem really good, but are they really on the same level as other guys? His inability to break down mostly weaker defenders and finishing with the floater at the rim, raises serious questions to his ability to perform at a high rate against the best competition around. The same is true for his shooting and overall ability to score. His lack of high level competition, just raises questions that can't be answered until the time comes.

Overall for the Pacers:

Before it seems that I spent a lot of time on Payne's strengths, most his major weaknesses are part of a mixed bag that makes it difficult to place as a total strength or weakness. With that said, I do think Payne looks to be a solid player who played at a high level for a very good Murray State team. However, Payne playing at Murray State offers the questions to his true skills. On YouTube I saw a video of him working at the IMG academy a top basketball school. This does show that Payne is working hard and putting in the effort to become a better player. This is a good sign for the Pacers and Payne in hopes of having a lasting NBA career. With the 11th pick in the draft I am not sure I would take Payne. The Pacers need for a PF with West aging, or a C, with Hibbert showing he is not what is expected, should take precedent over drafting a PG. However, for a PG I think he would be a great back up to Hill and offers a lot great qualities that make him seem to have a great upside. I think Payne will be a solid player in the league and could offer a pretty good for the Pacers, but early in the lottery he is a tough pick.