Is Warriors Guard’s Improvement Real or Too Good to Be True?

Gary Payton II Warriors

Getty Golden State Warriors guard Gary Payton II looks on during a game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Golden State Warriors fans were over the moon last week when head coach Steve Kerr declared that the team would be guaranteeing the contract of Gary Payton II for the rest of the season. And why wouldn’t they be?

After bouncing around the fringes of the NBA for years, Payton has emerged to play a big-time role for the 30-9 Warriors this season. His defense has always been there, but now he’s also knocking down a ridiculous 64.6% of his shot attempts and 41.8% from deep.

As a result, he has the third-best net rating on a team full of plus/minus heroes at 11.8.

While he’s clearly had a massively positive impact on the court — and thrilled fans and his teammates alike with highlight-reel steals and hammer dunks — there’s a serious question that some would say ought to be asked about the late-blooming, breakout star.

Specifically — Is this actually real, or is it simply some combination of small sample size theater and Kerr carving out an ideal role for him?

Analyst Breaks Down Payton’s Early Shortcomings

That’s exactly the question The Athletic’s Seth Partnow explored with his latest piece, which also broke down the on-court improvement this season of Bulls star DeMar DeRozan and Cavs big man Jarrett Allen.

Where Payton is concerned, Partnow astutely pointed out that that 29-year-old has never made an opening-night NBA roster or lasted on a team for a full season. And given his history, as well as his physical and statistical profiles, that actually isn’t that surprising.

Payton is built like an old-school point guard. However, he plays more like a defensive wing and a rim runner than a floor general. As such, he’s never felt like a great fit at either guard spot.

Wrote Partnow:

A superlative athlete with a great nose for the ball defensively, his lack of shooting or traditional playmaking abilities at 6-foot-3 made him too much of a liability on the offensive end to secure a season-long deal, let alone a consistent roster spot.

Over his first four seasons, before he joined the Warriors, Payton was a 41.4% shooter who made just 25.6% of his three-point attempts. And while he’s dunking everything in sight at the moment, he was a 50/50 guy within three feet of the hoop during this time period, which stands to reason given his lack of size.

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An Ideal Situation

Although it’s clear that Payton has clearly made strides as a shooter since coming to the Bay Area, Partnow believes that Kerr may deserve as much credit as his player for what we’re seeing from him currently:

With a skillset that doesn’t much align to either of the traditional backcourt roles, Payton has been enabled by Steve Kerr carving out a role that perfectly accentuates his strengths while not asking him to operate in areas of weakness.

Payton has spent far less time on the ball and done far less playmaking this season than in any of his previous stops. His ability to move off the ball with intelligent basket cuts has combined with his development into a credible corner shooter to give him the ability to be effective enough on offense that he can be on the floor enough to make use of his defensive skills.

The question that needs to be asked here is whether it actually even matters if Payton’s output this season is more his doing or a product of his current environment. In the end, if he’s helping Golden State win and what he’s doing is sustainable, then the answer should be no.

And while a 38-game sample isn’t enough to predict what will happen in Payton’s career, it’s probably more than enough to gauge what he can bring to the table this season. Whether that makes what he’s doing real or not is up to the person asking the question.

Payton and the Warriors will go about their business of pursuing a championship regardless.


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