Gary Payton II was the final puzzle piece on the Golden State Warriors‘ roster this season, a part-time holdover from the 2020-21 season who earned a spot on the team just hours before the season-opener tipped off.
Now, as a fully healthy Warriors team looks poised for another deep playoff run, Payton has found his way into an important role in the rotation and discussing his long-term place in the organization — and the big raise he could have coming.
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Payton Making Difference in Playoffs
As Madeline Kenney of the Mercury News noted, Payton has been a difference-maker as the Warriors have built a three-games-to-one series lead against the Denver Nuggets. He has brought defensive intensity off the bench, twice blocking Nuggets big man and reigning MVP Nikola Jokic. The second block, which came on a putback attempt in Game 2, was particularly frustrating for Jokic as the two got into a spat when Payton slapped him on the backside at the next break in play.
This season has been a sharp and dramatic turnaround from the first five years of Payton’s career, mostly spent on the fringes of the NBA rosters. Payton spent the majority of his time in the G League before this season, never playing more than 30 games in the NBA before this season. The son of NBA legend Gary Payton said it’s been a long road to get to where he is now.
“After you get cut or something, get waived, whatever, [you] just go back to the drawing board, go back to grinding,” Payton said, “and just continue to get the reps and just keep going, wait til my next opportunity and just be ready.”
Payton had career-highs across most categories this season, scoring 7.1 points with 3.5 rebounds in 17.6 minutes per game. He said he’s happy to have finally gotten a chance to prove himself.
“Just to be here and be a part of it… it’s crazy,” Payton said. “I’ve just been waiting, trying to find somewhere, they’ll give me a chance, opportunity to show what I can do… but it’s just about time. I just needed somebody the chance and opportunity to show what I can do and help a team win.”
Big Payday Ahead for Payton
The Warriors fully guaranteed Payton’s $1.94 contract in January, and now could be sending him to an even bigger payday as he heads to unrestricted free agency in the summer. At the time the Warriors guaranteed the contract, head coach Steve Kerr was full of praise for Payton.
“Gary’s a two-way player,” Kerr said, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “When you are that elite defensively, the question in the playoffs becomes can you survive offensively. This is a guy who is among the league leaders in field-goal percentage. He’s got a knack around the rim; we’ve seen it every single night, whether it’s in transition or offensive boards or playing in the dunker spot. He’s dramatically improved his 3-point shot.”
Kenney noted that Payton’s next contract could be similar to what his former G League teammate Alex Caruso earned last offseason, when he signed a four-year, $37 million deal with the Chicago Bulls. Kerr said that Payton had earned whatever raise is coming his way.
“He’s latched onto his minutes and he hasn’t looked back,” Kerr said. “It seems like every time we put him out there, something good happens. So just really happy for him. You always appreciate the guys who have to swim upstream to make it and he’s had to swim a long way.”