Here we go, the first of our head to head match ups: Cameron Payne vs Jerian Grant.
This is the battle to decide if power conference studs are truly better than the mid majors. Payne and Grant are two guards high on the list for Larry Bird and the Pacers front office who could very well become Pacers in the near future. Grant has seen the big time, tasted victory, and played some great basketball. Payne has played great basketball in his own right, but it was at a different level and quality of play, that leaves him open to questions about his quality. Comparing both players shines light on the player of highest quality and the one the Pacers should be considering.
Now is the time for you to consider.
Passing Abilities- Both Payne and Grant are dynamic play makers who were some of the best passers in college basketball this past season. Payne had the 4th most assist per 40 of anyone in the DX-100 at 7.1. Grant comes in at the exact same spot edging Payne by .2 assists per 40, coming in at 7.3. Payne however has the highest assist percentage at 39.5%, compared to Grants 31.9%. Introducing these numbers, it becomes clear that both players are extremely capable and efficient passers who are very close in quality. This is where it becomes hard to keep the power six conference bias out of the analysis. In my head I want to initially say that Grant is the better passer, has faced stiffer defenses and still posted nearly the same numbers as Grant, but that is being unfair to Payne. It is key to look at the skills most important to the Pacers to really decide who the better passer is. In the NBA it is clear that the pick and roll is an essential part of the game as Chris Paul had 1,497 screens set for him. With this volume of screens being set of elite NBA guards, the importance of P/R quality is perhaps the most important passing situation. Payne and Grant were both fantastic in P/R situations as both Murray State, and Notre Dame, ran a lot of P/R for their guards. Payne and Grant both made good reads on screens and almost always threw darts to big men for good looks at the rim. They both knew when to pull up, when to pass, and when to let the play die off. Their passing intelligence made them turn the ball over rarely and bolstered their assist numbers to the levels we see now. I am going to count the passing abilities as a tie, they are both so proficient and capable there is no clear winner here.
Shooting Abilities- Payne and Grant both were solid shooters, with good true shooting percentages, but in reality are shooters that need work. Both players have shooting styles that are less than ideal. Payne has a lower release that lends itself to being blocked easily to much larger guards he will be facing. This lower release also tends to lead to lower make percentages than more pure shooters. Grant is big enough to avoid problems with being blocked on his jumper, but his stroke is a little offset toward the left side of his face which makes him less consistent. While both players had less than perfect jump shooting strokes, they were effective at getting the ball in the basket which is all that matters. Within their shooting abilities is the clutch factor which both players seem to have. Time and again they had the ball in their hands in late game situations where they often seemed to make many of these shots. Overall I believe that Payne is a slightly better jump shooter who seems to have a better release that will lend to more makes in the long run. But it is key to note that this edge is very slight and Grant is still a solid jump shooter.
Finishing Abilities- This is a key category for these two, as they both were some of the worst at finishing at the rim of anyone in this draft class. I think that this is important in the NBA for guards to be able to breakdown defenders, absorb contact, and finish at the rim. Not being able to finish at the rim makes them a pretty one dimensional, which is never a good thing. Grant and Payne both used floaters around the rim a lot and hardly ever finished the tough contact plays. The edge here goes to Grant. His bigger size and frame which can easily take more mass and allow him to finish easily at the rim.
Both players are very mixed on the defensive end of the floor and are fantastic when they are locked into their stance. When they are not locked in they both get beat by players who should have not beat them, they ball watch, and sometimes make bad game reads. Once they are locked in they show great lateral skills, contest, have a knack for the ball, and are great on defense. This is a problem for Payne who faced weak offensive talent, making his lazy defense even more alarming. Will he back down against top level offense? Is Payne able to lock up the top basketball players in the world? The questions of his ability against the top competition leaves him as a big question mark. Grant faced the best of the best in the ACC and seeing him making great defensive plays against Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, and other loaded teams, gives a much better look at his true defensive quality. With that said Grant edges this category, but like the others it is very close.
Both of these guards are good and are very close in skills. For the Pacers both players could provide lift in the guard positions through their offensive abilities and capabilities on defense. For me, Grant has a little bit of an edge. His passing abilities are stellar and his jump shot is good enough to score the basketball. Putting those two together makes him a high quality player who can immediately come in and provide a lift for the Pacers on offense. At 6‘5 he offers some versatility by being able to play both the 1 and 2 spots. Grant offers another three inches over Hill and possess similar skills on the offensive end, but seems able to score a little more. Grant seems to need less work at adjusting to the NBA and quality of competition he will be facing, which is a good thing for a Pacers team that should be in the playoffs next season. Overall, Grant just slightly edges Payne. Payne has great skills and the opportunity to become a good NBA player, I think both players are good picks and good potential. What do you guys think?