Wise Choice: Warriors’ Gary Payton Pays off as Vet Tanks for the Lakers

Avery Bradley, left, tries to guard the Warriors' Stephen Curry.

Getty Avery Bradley, left, tries to guard the Warriors' Stephen Curry.

In a way, he can bee seen as a symbol for the way the Lakers’ season has gone—and, at the same time, a symbol for how the WarriorsNBA-best season has gone.

That would be guard Avery Bradley who, if you go back to the final week of training camp, was the favorite to win the final spot in the Warriors’ rotation. Veterans Stephen Curry and Draymond Green were said to be pulling for him, hoping to have as much experience on the roster as possible. “Stephen Curry and Draymond Green were among a group of strong advocates for keeping Bradley,” Marcus Thompson of The Athletic wrote.

Alas, the Warriors cut him. And they’re 18-2.

That left the Lakers to sign Bradley, and he has not exactly thrived in L.A. They’re 11-11.

In fact, injuries have forced him into a starting role and Bradley has proven to be among the worst starters in the NBA to this point this season. He has shot 30.2% from the 3-point line as a starter and but only 34.5% from the field, averaging just 4.9 points. That is the third-fewest among players who have started at least 10 games.

His plus/minus is a disaster as well: At minus-6.3, Bradley has the 13th-worst rating among starters in the league, per NBA.com stats, and 11 of the players worse than him play for Houston, Oklahoma City, Orlando and Detroit, all terrible rebuilding teams. The only player on a team .500 or better worse than Bradley as a starter is Kemba Walker, whom the Knicks removed from their rotation on Monday.

Former Lakers 2-Way Player Now a Key Warriors Reserve

It has worked out nicely for the Warriors, who were left to choose between Bradley and Gary Payton II (who once was a Laker) back in October. While Bradley has flopped with the Lakers, Payton II has thrived. He is averaging 6.3 points on an incredible 67.1% shooting, making 39.1% from the 3-point line. He has earned minutes, 14.1 per game, because of his aggressive end-to-end defense.

He is, in a way, a younger version (28) of Bradley (33), and far more athletic. Payton has become a Warriors fan favorite for his fierce dunks, while Bradley has dunked once in his last two seasons.

Bradley, of course, was with the Lakers during its 2019-20 run to the NBA championship, but did not join the bunch after the COVID-19 restart, skipping out on all the fun in the Orlando bubble. He was a solid starter for the Lakers up until March, but never really seemed to get back to his game once he opted out of the restart. He struggled in Miami and Houston last season, and that has carried over to L.A.

Bradley Should Not Be a Starter

Worse for the Lakers is that they’ve got a connection to Payton, and could really use a player with his skillset on the current mismatched roster. Payton was a two-way player for the Lakers in 2018, and even scored 25 points against the Clippers in the season finale that year.

The Warriors, though, are happy to have him.

“He’s just a great weapon to have, defensively especially, but he’s also hitting his threes this year,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Payton. “So he has worked hard on his shot, dynamic defensively. Ready every single night. Always cheering everybody on. He’s a guy you can play 20 minutes or zero and he’s still got the same energy, the same life.”

As for the Lakers, they’re still plugging along with Bradley in the starting five. Ultimately, the team will likely put Kendrick Nunn or Trevor Ariza into that spot—both are injured—but even with those guys out, it is odd that coach Frank Vogel has not made a change to Wayne Ellington, Malik Monk or even Austin Reaves. Bradley was never meant to be a starter this season, and he is showing it.




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