Clippers NBA Draft: Should Gary Payton II be a late target?

Jan 9, 2016; Corvallis, OR, USA; Oregon State Beavers guard Gary Payton II (1) celebrates with his father and former NBA star Gary Payton after the game against the California Golden Bears at Gill Coliseum. The Beavers won 77-71. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 9, 2016; Corvallis, OR, USA; Oregon State Beavers guard Gary Payton II (1) celebrates with his father and former NBA star Gary Payton after the game against the California Golden Bears at Gill Coliseum. The Beavers won 77-71. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports /

The Los Angeles Clippers need to set their sights on a small forward in the 2016 NBA Draft, but should Gary Payton II be worth their attention in the second round?

The Los Angeles Clippers have plenty of guards and when considering the key weaknesses of their roster, there are more important matters to address than their backcourt in the 2016 NBA Draft. The need for that long-term, future solution at small forward is still important, and the matter of whether or not Cole Aldrich leaves in free agency could make the Clippers’ frontcourt even more shallow than it already is. These two positions should take priority, but could there be a slight exception for the team’s second pick in this year’s draft?

After having the 25th pick to enter the first round, the Clippers’ final pick will come 33rd overall. Both picks are far higher than the 56th selection they bought last year to acquire Branden Dawson, giving the Clippers the possibility of addressing two areas of weakness with players that should hold more promise.

And while it does sound obvious to say that they need players who can contribute, it needs to be emphasized when the head coach in question is Doc Rivers, someone who has shown a lack of interest in utilizing the draft and making the most of young players. In case you’d forgotten, trading a protected 2019 first round pick in order to acquire Jeff Green in February (who is now a free agent) is a clear indicator of that.

But as what could be the Clippers’ final title run with the current core approaches next season, they need all the help they can get.

Already, out of the three players the Clippers have worked out or are scheduled to workout, there are two guards (point guard Yogi Ferrell and guard Isaiah Briscoe) and only one forward (Malik Pope). However, to reiterate one last time, Gary Payton II should only be selected if Doc insists on taking a point guard or the Clippers make a trade or purchase a pick to acquire another late second round selection.

Offensively, Payton has immediate potential to create well inside due to his athleticism, possessing a strong, 6’2″ frame and impressive explosiveness. He finishes with serious authority whenever he gets a chance at the rim, runs the floor well in transition, and averaged 16 points per game while shooting 48.6 percent this season largely thanks to his interior ability.

The real weakness is his jump shot, which will certainly need to be developed over time. Although, after the Clippers did such a brilliant job turning Blake Griffin into a mid-range machine, Payton should be able to follow with the correct hard-working approach. On top of that, he will need to refine his passing and consistency at the professional level, but with five assists per game and an excellent assist percentage of 32.9 (1st in the Pac-12 Conference) he clearly has some playmaking talent.

Plus, seeing as he won’t be asked to run the Clippers’ offense off the bench in any minutes he does receive, he can easily be partnered with a more experienced point guard in smaller lineups.

Defense is where Payton already shines and shows great potential, though, following in the footsteps of his father, Gary “The Glove” Payton.

With his elevation to reject shots and contest guards well on drives to the rim, and use his lateral quickness to break up passing lanes (2.5 steals per game and the highest steal percentage in the Pac-12 Conference), he can be a serious disruptor all over the floor.

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And as for his rebounding, he’s simply one of the better rebounding point guards that college basketball has seen, especially for someone who stands just over 6’2″. He averaged 7.8 rebounds per game this season (good enough for 9th in the Pac-12 Conference) and 9.2 per 40 minutes, a ridiculous mark that speaks volumes about his leaping ability and the way he attacks the glass with such aggression at both ends of the floor.

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That’s the kind of impact that the Clippers, a team who struggled to rank 29th in rebounding rate this season, could desperately use from Payton.

After all, with that kind of intensity, he didn’t become the league Defensive Player of the Year and a first team All-Pac-12 player in both his years at Oregon State for nothing.

In terms of defense, physicality, athleticism, and exceptional rebounding, there’s a lot to like about Payton. And with time, if he improves as a floor general and develops his jumper and shot selection, he could be the kind of athletic talent that could be a late steal (he’s widely projected as a mid-second round pick) to settle into the bottom of the Clippers’ rotation.

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Yes, he’s undersized and, yes, he is a point guard that isn’t necessarily the team’s top priority. It’s for that reason that I still argue a small forward and combo big should come first. However, if there’s any way a trade occurs for the Clippers to acquire a later pick in the draft or Doc is going to make up his mind and pursue a guard anyway, Gary Payton II could be worth some attention in the second round.