With the way this season has gone for the Phoenix Suns, we all expected them to not make any significant changes to their roster outside of possibly moving Troy Daniels, Tyson Chandler or Jared Dudley if they asked to. None of those scenarios played out for Phoenix, but an opportunity popped out that general manager Ryan McDonough could not refuse.
Right before the trade deadline, about 10 minutes before the final buzzer of the 1 pm AZ time, the Suns struck a deal with Orlando for Elfrid Payton.
Sure, Payton won’t move the needle much for a team destined towards another top-five pick in this year’s draft, but he’s a much-needed addition. On the season with the Magic, Payton has averaged 13 points, 4 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.5 steals in only 28.6 minutes per game.
If you stretch it out to 36 minutes — Payton and many Magic have had trouble finding consistent playing time in Frank Vogel’s defense-heavy system reliant upon success on that end — the 6’4 guard out of Louisiana-Lafayette is in some elite company. The former Magic guard tallied a stat line of 16.4 points, 5 rebounds, 7.9 assists, and 1.8 steals on 52/37.3/63.2 shooting splits.
Other names so far this season to put up at least 16-5-7.5-1.5 on a nightly basis, per 36, are as follows: LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, and Kris Dunn.
It’s safe to say Payton has taken strides forward in his fourth season as a pro.
One area that the former Ragin Cajun lacks in his overall profile is a perimeter game and a lack of defensive tools that were expected when he was originally selected by Orlando. However, when it comes to his three-point consistency, a jump has occurred there and has maintained thus far.
The sample size in that category, 67 total attempts, is small but he could at least be a threat if Booker can create space on drive-and-dish scenarios.
Speaking of Devin Booker, this move should help him immensely after the All-Star break. Booker has been nagged by multiple injuries this season which include a strained adductor, rib contusion, and hip pointer while carrying a massive burden.
The acquisition of Payton should help smooth Booker’s transition more to his natural position of shooting guard, but we definitely will still see Point Booker unleashed in closing scenarios and when they need an offensive jolt.
At 6’4 with a 6’7 wingspan, Payton at least fits on the surface the prototypical guard that should be placed alongside Booker. Compared to their other options thus far, Payton maybe allows the Suns their best opportunity to try to switch everything at some points on defense.
If you allow Booker to run the point sometimes, you could place Payton, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss, and Dragan Bender alongside and get switch crazy. The potential for that to work is at least there on the surface.
When the price to acquire a former lottery pick is for a second round pick you originally gained in the Troy Daniels trade before training camp, you absolutely pounce on that opportunity.
Now, we will have to see how the Payton-Booker backcourt duo works over these last 26 games, but this still allows McDonough ample flexibility as he heads into his most important summer yet on the job in Phoenix.
If Payton continues his play this season or improved it, which could easily happen with more minutes and playing alongside an elite scoring guard like Booker, the Suns could place their restricted tender (the rights in which they now own after this deal) on him and head into next season firmly entrenched in the rotation.
Without including draft picks, placing that tender on Payton would place Phoenix at around $13 million in cap space this summer. The Suns can create more room if they are able to move contracts via trade (Dudley, Chandler, Daniels, etc.) and or release non-guaranteed deals that include names like Alan Williams and Tyler Ulis.
Heading into an offseason where the free agency market is expected to correct itself after the craziness over these past few summers, Phoenix is in a great position to add talent from multiple avenues.
Speaking of Payton, acquiring a former lottery pick like him is a gamble well worth taken for this roster in need of some sort of talent infusion one way or another. The Suns could decide to keep Payton around for the 2018-2019 season or simply not offer him a restricted tender, which opens up more cap space once July 1 hits.
One area to watch for when Payton is added into this offense is how his elite finishing at the rim opens up lanes for the likes of Booker, T.J. Warren, and Jackson to operate. Ever since he was drafted by the Magic in 2014, Payton has excelled at scoring in that area. Per Cleaning The Glass, Payton has been in the 90th percentile nearly his entire career as far as point guards who can effectively finish their drives.
It’s crazy to say, but if you include Jackson running point for the majority of the game behind Josh Gray when Ulis went out with back spasms on Wednesday, the Suns have had eight players run the point.
I repeat this will now be eight players — Eric Bledsoe, Mike James, Ulis, Isaiah Canaan, Booker, Gray, Jackson, and Payton — in 57 games when they next tipoff Saturday against the Denver Nuggets.
After the Bledsoe fiasco took place in late October, the Suns have been in a desperate state to add a legitimate point guard to help stabilize their play and develop their young core simultaneously. At only age 23, McDonough and Co. hope Payton can accomplish that on this 26 game tryout for a possible long-term role in the Valley.
However, the main idea for Phoenix was still maintained as this year’s trade deadline passed: flexibility all around to have whenever that big fish move finally pops up that fits in their timeline of constructing a long-term contender.