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Suns begin test drive with Elfrid Payton over final two months of the season

After acquiring Payton for only a second-round pick, both sides are motivated to make this work. The Suns are intrigued to see how it goes over these final 26 games.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After shuffling through their deck of point guards, seven to be exact once you add in Josh Jackson filling in as their emergency backup 1 when Tyler Ulis exited Wednesday’s blowout loss with back spasms, the Phoenix Suns rolled the dice at Thursday’s trade deadline.

Once he fell out of favor in Orlando, general manager Ryan McDonough scooped up Elfrid Payton for the pick they received from Memphis in the Troy Daniels deal back in September.

So, if you think about it that way, the Suns acquired both Payton and Daniels for absolutely nothing.

As Orlando tries to accelerate their tank towards either Luka Doncic, Deandre Ayton or Trae Young, Phoenix ended their display of running out backups to compensate for their trade of Eric Bledsoe a few months prior.

Even though they are simply testing this out at the moment, Payton does possess a lot of intriguing traits at the point guard position they have not had in Phoenix for a while. He brings not only elite size to the position at 6’4” with a 7’0” wingspan but can create a shot for himself regularly at the rim.

So far this season, Payton has averaged 13 points, 4 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.5 steals on 52/37.3/63.2 shooting splits. As I outlined right after the deal went down, Payton is actually one of only five guards putting up a line of at least 16-5-7.5-1.5 per 36 minutes.

When I spoke with Devin Booker and T.J. Warren at practice Friday, they believe he will bring a defensive edge to the Valley. However, those flashes have been far and few in between while he was a member of the Magic.

Maybe there is some untapped potential there on both ends, as McDonough continued to relay to the media gathered at Talking Stick Resort Arena Saturday morning.

McDonough believes Payton, like the rest of their young core, has more room to grow in his overall game.

“He’s got a lot of potential with his size and length,” McDonough said. “Like most young players, like most of our team, I like there’s room for growth there, but he’s got the physical tools and he’s got the mentality to do it. He’s motivated and we’re motivated to see what he can do.”

As McDonough also let us know Saturday was that Payton and Warren were apart of the Suns’ pre-draft process, not once but twice. Both had workouts together in Phoenix, as both are in the same agency. Payton and Warren are also very close friends off the floor.

Payton ended up going off the board at No. 10 in the 2014 NBA Draft, but if he was still around alongside Warren, who knows where that pick might have gone.

McDonough and the rest of his staff kept close tabs on Payton not only while he was playing college ball at Louisiana-Lafayette, but over his last 3.5 years in Orlando as well.

“It just seems we’re kind of snakebitten there,” McDonough said about the Suns’ point guard situation so far this season. “So, we were evaluating Elfrid, and we know his game pretty well from having studied him so closely in the draft and three and a half years he played for the Magic. We just think he’ll be a great fit. We need a guy who does what he can do, and I mean by that is a bigger point guard with size and length, good athleticism, and he’s a very good finisher around the basket.”

With Payton’s advantage on most 1s in terms of his size and length, he presents a unique opportunity for Phoenix. Playing Payton alongside Booker, Warren, Josh Jackson, and Marquese Chriss create nearly positionless basketball as all are big and have the length to switch onto multiple players.

As Phoenix is firmly out of the playoff race at this point and on a collision course towards another top-five selection in this year’s draft, taking a flyer on a guard like Payton makes so much sense.

As it relates to how Payton will fit alongside Booker, it should help out immensely. Booker has been carrying a near top five usage rate all season. Pairing him with Payton who can switch off between on-ball and off-ball also allows Phoenix the opportunity to continue to explore Point Book in certain situations.

When asked about it Saturday, the former lottery pick in 2014 couldn’t help but grin after wrapping up his answer about how he and Booker should mesh together.

The Suns obviously have been fans of Payton for awhile, and if he continues to keep his career-high shooting numbers up in an increased role, they might end up keeping him long-term as the free agent market is expected to be dry this summer compared to other up-tempo offseasons.

“Obviously he’s in the last year of his contract, but we have potential interest beyond this year as well,” McDonough said. “We’ll have to see how the last 25-30 games go.”

I recorded most of the press conference with Payton and McDonough, so check it out below.

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