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Suns Player Previews: Elfrid Payton returns to the Valley

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The hair is gone but the hustle remains.

Phoenix Suns v New York Knicks Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Welcome to the 2021-22 Phoenix Suns Season Preview series, starting with individual PLAYER PREVIEWS. We go through the roster, recapping last year and analyzing how they can help the Suns in their upcoming championship push.

Suns Players Previews: The return of Elfrid Payton and his new role with the Suns

Elfrid Payton

Point Guard, 6’3” tall, 195 pounds, 27 years old

Recap

Elfrid Payton was taken with the 10th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by the New Orleans Pelicans (who had the Philadelphia 76ers’ 1st round pick), and traded to the Orlando Magic on draft day for Dario Saric. The NBA is full of movement, but once the 10th pick was landed by the Magic, Payton was out into a situation in which he’d be proving himself as a starting point guard.

Payton became accustomed to losing while in Orlando. He was a starter for 3½ years while averaging 11.2 PTS, 6.4 AST, and a losing percentage of 34%. Orlando perennially found themselves in the NBA lottery.

He was traded to the Phoenix Suns in February of 2018 for a second round pick. He was viewed as somewhat of a savior at first in Phoenix — there was a need for a point guard in the Valley. Coming in hot, Payton put up two triple-double performances in his first nine games. In 19 games with the Suns, the team went 1-18, and he did not return for the 2018-19 season.

After his stint in Phoenix, Payton continued to fill the starting point guard role in his visits to the New Orleans Pelicans and the New York Knicks. He had 42 games played in New Orleans in the 2018-19 season and 99 starts for the Knicks between the 2019-2021 seasons.

Ultimately after tasting what winning was like in New York with the Knicks, Elfrid was still underappreciated according to Knicks fans. He won games as a starter but the fans wanted Derrick Rose to take over the reins, and a year later the fans were granted their wish.

On August 10, 2021, Payton reached a deal to come back to Phoenix. Returning to the Suns for the 2021-22 NBA season, Payton is taking on a new role contributing to the point guard depth and veteran leadership.

Currently, Payton walks into a winning environment with a whole new outlook on the game.

  • Overall grade as an NBA player: C
  • Relative grade to preseason expectations: C

Contract details

Payton signed a 1-year/$2.4M contract for the 2021-22 season.


Weaknesses

Shooting would be the first thing to look at. If you shoot the three like Ben Simmons, they will run you out of town. In Paytons case, shooting a career 29% from beyond the arc is pretty bad.

The lack of shooting from three and the occasional large turnover game is what really sparked the disdain from the Knicks’ fanbase. There won’t be a whole lot of playmaking expected from Payton coming off the bench, so the incline of turnovers should roll back down the hill with fewer possessions against most teams’ second units.

Also, the lack of winning (until his time in New York) is something we are all used to here in Phoenix in previous years. The return to the same city from years ago but with a different culture will help shape Payton into a real winner.

Strengths

Elrid Payton is a career 10.9 points and 6.2 assist guy. Of his 450 games played, 394 have come in a starting role. That is 87.6%. He possesses plenty of starting experiences that should pay off for him as he accepts a relegated role coming off of the Suns’ bench.

What has kept him in the starting role? His hard play and hustle help. He possesses mental toughness as well. Coached by Tom Thibodeau in New York, your soul will be squeezed out of you and left on the court every night. That is really the only option given.

He dropped a season-high 27 points against the Milwaukee Bucks last December and displayed push shot, runners, and ability to run the pick-and-roll. He added 7 assists and even hit 3-of-3 from deep.


ONE KEY FACTOR

Playing to his strengths, Payton needs to stick to hustle and defense. The Suns have added shooting with Landry Shamet, so there will be nothing to prove in shooting the ball especially from beyond the arc. He needs to focus on running the offense and setting up players like Shamet rather than playing isolation ball and trying to create his own shot.

Something that fellow BSOTS writer John Voita always says is that James Jones likes players who possess one elite skill (rather than a bunch of skills that are average). Trying to be a player that you are not will not help Payton’s case in trying to get on the floor. Stick with who you are, Elfrid.

A starting point guard in the NBA that is now a backup (to a backup) is an adjustment for him. Knowing his role off the bench will guarantee him to be a Monty/James Jones guy this season.


Prediction Time

Now, playing third on the depth chart at the point guard position should lead to some really solid minutes by Payton. Not solid in the “he’s going to get solid minutes” but solid in the “the minutes he plays will be solid” sense. Looking at his past of losing and then finally winning in New York will give him that extra push to make every minute count.

Injuries and rest will be an aspect to watch this season going back to the 82-game schedule. Chris Paul can use the rest (but probably won’t) and Cam Payne will get heavy minutes as a result. Where will Payton find himself playing behind a powerful 1-2 punch? Just be ready to play.

The lineups from head coach Monty Williams may go back to the three-guard offenses he has experimented with in the past and Payton should benefit. He may find himself in unique situations rather than “go out there and do your best on a losing team” situation. The fight to stay on this roster and to not become a trade piece at the deadline will be enough to push Payton to hopefully play the best ball he has played in his career, albeit in a limited capacity.