Elfrid Payton, 6-foot-4 point guard, Louisiana-Lafayette
2013-14 stats: 19.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.3 steals, .509 FG%, .259 3P%, .609 FT%
While his name might be unfamiliar to casual fans, Payton has been on the NBA’s radar for some time now, starting with his stint with USA Basketball last summer. A big, athletic true point guard with defensive prowess and playmaking ability, the New Orleans-area native is also young for his class. Although his shooting is a work in progress, Payton’s potential makes him a very intriguing prospect.
Career highlights: The son of a former football standout, Payton mostly came off the bench as a 17-year-old freshman, averaging 7.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, three assists and 1.2 steals per game. As a sophomore, he became a starter and improved his per-game averages to 15.9 points and 5.6 rebounds, along with a conference-leading 5.5 assists and 2.4 steals, earning first team all-Sun Belt Conference honors, then parlaying his success a role as Team USA’s starting point guard on the under-19 squad at the FIBA World Championships, where he won a gold medal. His junior year, Payton averaged 19.2 points, six rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.3 steals per game, while shooting 50.9 percent from the floor, again receiving first team all-conference honors, but also winning league and national defensive player of the year awards, while taking the Cajuns to the NCAA Tournament on the strength of performances like 27 points against Arkansas, 34 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists and five steals against Louisiana-Monroe, 12 points and 10 assists against Louisville, 31 points against Houston, 31 points and 13 assists against Western Kentucky and 24 points and eight assists against Creighton.
Strengths: A long and explosive floor general, Payton excels at getting to the rim, whether in transition or against set defenses, and either finishing himself or finding his teammates for easy opportunities. An excellent drive-and-kick playmaker, he combines great size for his position and good court vision. On the defensive end, Payton harasses opposing ballhandlers, can get steals on or off the ball and is a tremendous rebounder for a point guard.
Weaknesses: Payton doesn’t possess great shooting range or accuracy, allowing defenders to play off of him, and because he struggles at the free-throw line, he can’t capitalize on his penetrate when he gets fouled. Adding bulk to his slender frame will be a priority upon entering the professional ranks, as driving-oriented game will certainly put him in position to take a pounding. Having the ball in his hands so much in college, turnovers are also a concern for Payton and due to his previous level of competition, there will be an adjustment.
Draft projection: The rare blend of size, quickness, defense and playmaking that Payton possesses, along with his youth, gives him a wide range in the first round, starting in the late lottery, with his floor being the late teens or early 20s. A player with his upside in the point guard-dominated NBA will be brought along cautiously, but what he already brings to the table should get him on the floor for significant minutes early in his career. Assuming he gets stronger and becomes at least a passable mid-range jump shooter, Payton has a chance to be a long-term starting floor general, with his pass-first nature and two-way game giving him a very high ceiling.