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Cameron Payne: From Overseas to G-League to swinging a playoff series

There aren’t many better stories out there right now than Cameron Payne with the Phoenix Suns

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s rewind a bit to get to the beginning of the Cameron Payne story. The year is 2015. It’s the NBA Draft. Cameron Payne was coming off a monstrous sophomore season for the Murray State Racers. He averaged 20.2 PPG, 6.0 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 0.5 BPG on a solid 57% TS with a 9.9 BPM.

The slippery guard was widely considered a lottery talent by executives around the league and he wound up going 14th overall to the Oklahoma City Thunder the pick after Phoenix took Devin Booker 13th.

The 2015 NBA Draft had some heavy Suns connections, for what it’s worth.

Kaminsky — 9th pick. Booker — 13th pick. Payne — 14th pick. Oubre — 15th pick.

Early in his career, he was primarily known as the guy that danced with Russell Westbrook to hype up the crowd pre-game in his stint with the Thunder. After being dumped by OKC to the Bulls for a bag of chips, he quickly became a meme for Chicago fans who coined him with the moniker of “tank commander” due to his poor play on the court.

After a couple of failed stints in the NBA, reality hit the Murray State product hard. The Chicago Bulls waived Payne at the age of 24. He signed a couple of 10-day contracts with the Cavs and Raptors, which flamed out and led to him ending up with the Texas Legends (G League) in 2019-20.

He played 15 games for them and dominated the league as expected before the season was shut down due to COVID-19. During this same time period, he also briefly signed in China to play for the Shanxi Loongs, where he played just 2 games.

Then, a phone call came from a former assistant coach in his Oklahoma City days. It was Monty Williams. The Bubble happened and the rest is history.

Believe it or not, Payne actually appeared in 11 playoff games in his career prior to this series against the defending champs.

In these 5 playoff games this year, Payne is averaging:

13.6 points, 3.8 assists, 3.4 rebounds 1.4 steals on a 57.1 TS% in 23.2 minutes per game.

He also holds a 2.37 assist-to-turnover ratio in these five contests. The 10 stocks (7 steals, 3 blocks) are also indicative of his tenacious defense and the energy he brings on that side of the floor.

CP3’s Apprentice?

Chris Paul is a coach on the court, off the court, in practice, in the locker room. Everywhere. Throughout the season we’ve seen glimpses of that when he’s talking shop with Payne on the sidelines, and last night this moment (photo below) really stood out.

via Phoenix Suns.

The talk amongst Suns fans about the point guard of the future could’ve been hiding in plain sight this entire time. This offseason retaining him might get tricky, but that’s a good problem for another day. Ultimately it’s feasible to bring him back financially, but they will have to pull a few cap strings depending on his market.

He’s learning from the best and still young enough to warrant committing to long-term once Chris Paul rides off into the sunset. He was a lottery-level talent after all.

If this play doesn’t scream Chris Paul to you, I don’t know what will. Payne simply does not make that play in his younger days.

The energy has always been there with Payne from the start of the Bubble, and now he’s grasped how to harness it into productive and confident basketball. It’s a beautiful sight to behold when he has it going. The pull-up shooting and crafty finishes around the rim combined with his burst make him a deadly microwave scorer as we’ve seen time and time again throughout this series.

Never change, Cameron Payne.

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