NBA Position: PF
General Information: 23 year old senior, played at Michigan State. From Dayton, Ohio.
Measurables: 6'10", 240 lbs, 7'4″ wingspan, 9'1″ standing reach
2013-14 Season Statistics: 16.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.5 SPG, .9 BPG, 2.0 TOPG (28.1 minutes per contest) - 50.3% FG, 79% FT, 43.2% 3P, 60.7% TS
Summary: A stellar Senior season rocketed Payne up the Draft Boards; the 23 year old may not be as hot a prospect as others due to his age, but he's an experienced veteran with no serious weaknesses. He can score from anywhere on the court, play solid defense and is a good rebounder.
Offensive Breakdown: After spending three years in offensive mediocrity (he averaged 10.5 points per game his junior year), Payne took a remarkable leap forward as a Senior, scoring 16.4 points per game and capping it off with a 41 point outing against Delaware in the NCAA Tournament.
Payne is a balanced offensive player; 35% of his shots were at the rim, 35% were two-point jumpers, and 30% were from three. The most impressive was his growth from deep-as a junior, only 18% of his shots were from three, although he did make 38% of them. Payne significantly improved as a shooter this season, and handled himself well as one of the team's top options (next to teammate Gary Harris). He was inconsistent at times, scoring less than 10 points in six games.
He's a solid post player, and has great size and athleticism for the position. He's got excellent verticality (check out this insane dunk), but over the past two years' he's developed a solid back-to-the-basket game. Payne still tends to pull up for fade-aways or short jumpers rather than try and get to the rim, and he'll need to develop more in the paint as he enters the NBA. With his 7'4 wingspan and legitimate 6'10 height, he's too big a player not to have go-to post moves.
Payne doesn't have the best ball control and decision making, although that has improved significantly over the years. He finished with a 10% assist rate and a 13.1% turnover rate this season; 2.9 turnovers per 40 minutes is a high, but a bit understandable considering his large role in the offense. He's a solid free throw shooter, although his tendency to stay away from the basket doesn't send him to the line very often (4.5 free throws a game). His shot selection wasn't always the best, and he sometimes looked lost in the offense even as the Spartans top scorer.
Defensive Breakdown: Payne showed serious defensive improvement over the past season, going from a liability in his junior year to an above-solid defender in his senior year. He plays with intensity on the defensive end, and while he struggled with foul trouble his first few years, he cut it down to 2.6 fouls a game last year. He only fouled out once last season.
On the block, Payne has the size (he's a full 6'9 without shoes), length (a 7'4 wingspan, tied with Noah Vonleh for best in the class) and athleticism to guard anyone at the position. He'll need to bulk up and keep himself lower to face players like Dwight Howard and Al Jefferson, but he's got good footwork.
He doesn't have the best defensive awareness and often lost his man when they didn't have the ball. He's also not the best help defender despite his quickness, and even with his length and verticality he didn't produce a ton of blocks (.9 blocks a contest, 3.8% block rate). Given the proper Coaching and weight room training, I predict Payne will be a solid defender, if never a great one.
As a rebounder, Payne is above-average. As he plays so often away from the rim, he didn't get a lot of offensive boards (6.8% rate, 1.5 a game), although his defensive rate was impressive (22.9%, 5.7 a game). He uses his length and athleticism well to snag the rebounds, and when in the paint he attacked for put-back dunks. Again, he'll need to add muscle to face NBA power forwards, but so do every forward/center in the class.
Intangibles: Payne is an incredibly hard worker, and showed significant improvements every year he was at Michigan State. He became a fan favorite in his junior year due to his willingness to dive for loose balls, and he rarely gave up on plays on either side of the court. His age may dampen his NBA potential, but he's spent four years being coached by one of the best in Tom Izzo; he's more NBA ready then nearly all of the class.
If you haven't heard the story of Payne's relationship with eight year old Lacey Holsworth, who passed away a few months ago from cancer, I urge you to check it out. Here is a good video on the story and an excellent piece from Kurt Mensching at SB Nation. Fair warning; feels will be had.
Fit with Sacramento: While Payne doesn't have the best basketball IQ, court awareness or passing instincts, he'd be a fantastic offensive fit with DeMarcus Cousins. His offensive range and athleticism will help him transition into the more physical NBA, and his ability to hit the three ball would help the Kings spread the floor. He'd be ready to contribute on offense immediately, which gives him a bump over higher profile players like Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon or Noah Vonleh.
Defensively Payne has all the tools to be solid NBA defender. With his excellent verticality and wingspan he could become a solid shot-blocker, although he didn't had many blocks in college. He'll struggle as he learns a new defensive system, and his defensive awareness is a concern; still, he's a hard enough worker and made significant improvements over the past two years, so I'm confident he'll adapt.
With his offensive range, solid post game and rebounding skills, Payne is a fan-favorite option if the Kings move back in the draft. He might not have the sky-high potential that some of the early lottery big men have, but he's athletic and raw enough in some areas that I believe he's not close to his ceiling. He's more NBA ready than most of the class, and could contribute immediately to the Kings Playoff hopes.