A year ago this month, Gary Payton II was packing his bags for a stint with the G League’s Raptors 905 as he battled to keep his NBA dreams alive. In October, that journey was seemingly dealt a blow when the Golden State Warriors waived him after he had appeared in just 10 games for the franchise last season.
Fast-forward to now and Payton looks to have finally cemented his spot in the best basketball league in the world. The current MVP frontrunner is even shouting him out.
“He’s the tallest 6-3 guy in the world,” Warriors star Stephen Curry said of Payton, via The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears.
Payton has been so good since making his return to Golden State (just four days after he had been waived), in fact, that Bleacher Report’s Andy Bailey just placed him on top of a list that included some of the game’s ultimate low-key difference-makers.
B/R: Payton Is a Second-Unit Maven
For his latest feature, Bailey attempted to rank the Association’s most underrated ballers in a variety of categories, including “End-of-Bench Players Who Should Be on the Floor,” “Rotation Players in Need of Bigger Roles” and “Stars Who Still Don’t Get Their Shine.”
In his category for “Underappreciated Sixth Men,” meanwhile, Bailey put Payton in the No. 1 spot, just ahead of a former multi-time All-Star in Kevin Love and an erstwhile Warrior and three-time NBA champ JaVale McGee, who is in the midst of a resurgent season with the Phoenix Suns.
As is the case with [Obi] Toppin, health and safety protocols thrust Gary Payton II into a different role recently, but he was one of the game’s most dynamic finishers and defenders long before he went into the starting lineup.
On the year, Payton is averaging 17.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 1.7 threes per 75 possessions. His true shooting percentage is an astronomical 70.9. And his willingness and ability to slash and rim-run off the ball has made him an almost ideal pairing with Stephen Curry.
The Warriors are an absurd plus-24.4 points per 100 possessions (100th percentile) when Payton and Curry are both on the floor. They’re a good (but mortal) plus-11.8 (95th percentile) when Curry plays without Payton.
Given Payton’s ridiculous efficiency and defensive chops, it’s hard to argue with his placement here.
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Kerr Sounds off on Payton
Curry isn’t the only Warriors mainstay to have taken note of Payton’s incredible growth from narrowly earning the team’s 15th roster spot — again, after having been cut — to playing important minutes for the team. Head coach Steve Kerr has been equally as impressed by the 29-year-old’s ability to play bigger than he actually is.
“He plays like a power forward in a point guard’s body,” Kerr said, via Spears. “He’s very unique. He’s tough for guys to guard because if you’re used to guarding someone that size, you’re on the perimeter. You’re guarding pick-and-roll. That kind of stuff. With Gary, you’re having to block him out. You’re having to treat him like a big guy. And guards just aren’t doing that.
“He just finds gaps and seams and makes plays at both ends that are unique. He does it with anticipation and tremendous athleticism. And length, too. He has really long arms.”
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