Elfrid Payton: A Breath of Fresh Hair
After rolling out a motley crew of career journeyman all year, the Suns’ tumultuous journey to find an NBA-caliber point guard may have finally come to an end (for now). As the trade deadline came to a close, the Suns shipped a 2nd round pick to acquire Elfrid Payton from the Orlando Magic. Elfrid Payton is a former top-10 pick so the talent is there, but it’s hard to get excited about a guy that was basically given away. But with the quality of point guard play that Suns fans have had to endure this year, Payton’s play can breathe life back into a lost season.
During his first start as a Sun, Payton put up 19 points on 8-13 shooting, 9 assists, and 6 rebounds. Although the Suns still lost to the Nuggets, Payton showed flashes of the potential that made him a lottery pick. Even through a rough start to his career, Payton’s playmaking abilities have never been in doubt. He still put up 9 assists despite a handful of his feeds being dropped by Suns players (who aren’t used to receiving good passes, apparently).
The knock on Payton has always been his shooting ability. While 8-13 shooting is good, most of his looks came at the rim or from mid-range. His shooting percentages have gone up every year as a pro but that seems to stem from better shot selection rather than a better shot. He was touted as a strong defensive prospect coming out of college, but that hasn’t translated to the NBA. However, he is the only true point guard to start for the Suns this year above 6’2’’, so their league-worst defense can only improve with him at the helm.
Perhaps more important than his own numbers were those of two of the Suns’ more promising young guns, Josh Jackson and Dragan Bender. Bender scored a career-high 23 points, and Jackson stuffed the stat sheet with 20 points, 5 assists, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks and a steal. Both players have had seasons marred by inconsistency, but some of that can be attributed to the lack of quality point guard play. Payton allows the Suns to run a less Booker-centric offense, which will open up opportunities for everyone else. If nothing else, Payton will give the young Suns core some sorely needed confidence to take the next step in their development.
Elfrid Payton is a restricted free agent after the season, so the rest of this year is basically an extended try out for him. If he shows he can be a capable starting point guard, the Suns can sign him to a long-term deal this summer. If not, the Suns only gave up a 2nd round pick to acquire him, so no harm done. This is exactly the type of low-risk, high-reward move that can get #TheTimeline back on track. Maybe, the Suns will even be able to convince him to cut his hair (as long as they don’t take him to the salon the drove Eric Bledsoe away).