The New Orleans Pelicans hope to bring the best out of former lottery selection and John Ehret alumn, Elfrid Payton, in the 2018/19 season.
After signing Payton to the team’s valuable Bi-annual exception, fans were cautiously optimistic about the possibility of a high upside rotational player to spell and possibly replace Rajon Rondo, in time. But with Rondo’s unexpected departure to team up with LAbron, Elfrid Payton’s time to shine in New Orleans is now.
The former Lefty Driesell Award winner for best collegiate defensive player was brought to Orlando to reinforce the defense in the backcourt with a former number two overall pick, Victor Oladipo, and captain an offense featuring the promising likes of Evan Fournier and draft classmate, Aaron Gordon.
Several lottery finishes later, as well as a brief stint in Phoenix, Payton’s value has dropped to its lowest point since the draft day trade with the 76ers in 2014. In fact, Payton was drafted tenth overall by the Philadelphia 76ers, a selection acquired from the New Orleans Pelicans in a deal that netted NBA All-Defensive First Team selection, Jrue Holiday.
Payton will have every opportunity to win back that value in the 2018/19 season, earn an impressive raise in the following offseason, and command his choice of landing spots as an unrestricted free agent next summer. All he has to do is put ‘it’ together alongside the game’s best big man, Anthony Davis, and budding backcourt star, Jrue Holiday.
For those scoffing at the notion of the precipitously falling point guard recouping his value, first read the tales of Mike Conley Jr. and Kyle Lowry.
Kevin Pelton of ESPN wrote of Conley Jr. in 2015, in Conley’s 8th season:
Odds are Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies won’t be named an All-Star reserve this weekend. Still, the fact that Conley is a serious part of the conversation is remarkable given that as recently as four years ago, he was one of the league’s weaker starting point guards.
Mike Prada, of SB Nation wrote in 2012 of Lowry’s fourth season:
The man who currently is the only player in the NBA to average at least 15 points, 10 assists and six rebounds per game is on his second NBA team, was taken with the No. 24 pick in a weak draft and was dealt for essentially nothing during his third season. That man is Kyle Lowry of the Houston Rockets, and he’s the best player in the NBA that nobody knows about, as nebulous as that designation may be.
Last season, Elfrid Payton averaged 12.6 points, 6.2 assists, and 4.5 rebounds. As far as numbers go, he’s not that far off from following in Lowry’s footsteps. In fact, Payton is a remarkably efficient rim attacker. He took over 50% of his shots within five feet last season, converting on 62.5% of them.
“He’s a quiet guy. You won’t see the leadership qualities you saw with Rondo, but I think he can stand to be even more aggressive.” – Philip Rossman Reich, Editor and Chief to Orlando Magic Daily
Payton will have more space than he is accustomed to in New Orleans, when paired with the top three Finalist for both MVP and DPOY, Anthony Davis, but just how effective can he be off ball?
While shooting a dreadful 35% from 8-16 feet, Payton was a fair three-point gunner from the corners, averaging 35% from the right and 33% from the left. Above the break, he still managed a fair to middling 32%.
Defenders will lag off of Payton — much as they did with Rondo — to focus their efforts on AD, Jrue and E’Twaun Moore, but if Payton can come close to Rondo’s effectiveness from the corner, the Pelicans’ may survive Payton’s inconsistent stroke.
But as Reich noted in this podcast, it isn’t Payton’s offense that should concern fans. It’s his defense: “There was nowhere to hide Payton in Orlando. If you’re asking Payton to guard a team’s best back court player, you’re going to be scrambling to cover for him.”
But was Payton’s defense a product of the culture with the Magic and Suns?
“When you’re not winning, your motivation to do the little things goes by the wayside. Being with good players, fighting for the playoffs, will elevate your game.”
To take it to the other extreme, if Payton can produce close to All-Star level numbers offensively, and if Jrue and AD can hide him appropriately on defense, will the Magic come to regret losing a player they gave up so much to acquire?
“I don’t think they will. When Payton had those two big games in Phoenix, scored 40 points, triple doubles, got to the basket, we knew he could do those things. But then you check to see how much they won by, oh wait, they didn’t win? They lost? Then okay.“
“Payton is an NBA player. I was surprised to see he signed for so little, I thought he still had value in the league, but he’s not a starting level point guard. The Magic gave him every opportunity to succeed. The only way Payton will make the Magic regret losing him is if he becomes the defensive ace the Magic thought they were getting.”
“But at some point in the NBA, four years in, you are who you are.”
It’s true that Elfrid Payton’s performance was underwhelming during his four-year stint in Orlando and Phoenix, but at 24 years of age, there’s some time left for a different team to try and extract that player who won defensive accolades in college. In a winning culture, placed next to the best defensive guard in the league, Payton has the opportunity to seize a Lowry and Conley-esque renaissance in the minds of NBA fans.
With a fresh new haircut, and the tutelage of Darren Erman already begun, will Elfrid Payton both save his career and help convince AD to sign his super max this summer?
Thank you to Philip Rossman Reich, Editor to OrlandoMagicDaily.com, as well as host to Locked on Magic.
For more of Reich’s views on Payton, and how he can gel with Davis in New Orleans, download our podcast, and be sure to rate us on iTunes!