We are in the month of March, while many people look at this time and start preparing their NCAA Tournament bracket, there are also some people who start looking towards the end of the NCAA tournament. Mainly because when the tournament ends, the path to the NBA Draft begins. If you follow basketball at all this year, you know that the 2014 NBA Draft class has become one of the most talked about draft classes and the college basketball season is not even over yet.
However, just like always, there are always a few players who fall under the radar and most of those players come from mid-major schools, if you ask me, there is no one more overlooked than Elfrid Payton of Louisiana-Lafayette, who is the son of a former Grambling State football player and Canadian Football League Hall of Famer, Elfrid Payton Sr.
As of right now, Payton’s status for this year’s upcoming NBA Draft is still unknown because he is only a junior. So just like anybody else, he has the choice to declare for the NBA Draft and forgo his senior year or he can choose to come back for his senior year and not enter the NBA Draft.
However, if he does indeed decide to enter this year’s NBA Draft, he could end up being the underrated point guard who is taken in the first round of the draft. At 6-foot-3, Payton is an all around point guard, who has developed into one of the most versatile players in the country. He is currently averaging 19 points, five rebounds, six assists and three steals per game and it’s because of those impressive stats and his even more impressive skill set that more NBA scouts are starting to take notice.
Now due to his height and his 6-foot-7 wingspan, Payton already has NBA ready size and height but he also has lightning quick speed and control which allows him to be a threat in any situation but especially when driving to the rim. He is great in transition but he is just as effective and productive in the half-court setting. He is also very crafty when driving to the rim which allows him to do more damage, when he is close to the rim but most importantly, he’s a smart scorer. As of right now he is shooting 51 percent from the field which shows me that two things, the first one being the he does he take good high percentage shots and the second thing that it shows me is that as a slasher, he is an athletic finisher who can finish against contact consistently.
When it comes to gaining contact and getting to the free throw line, no one does it better considering the fact that Payton is currently averaging nine free throw attempts a game.
Keep in mind, that it’s not just scoring with Payton, over the course of his college career he has become a better creator for his teammates, seeing that fact that he is currently averaging six assists per game. Due to his improving court vision, Payton has become a play-maker who can get his teammates involved and he has shown that he has the ability to do that either in a half-court setting or when pushing the tempo.
The most underrated aspects of his game are his defensive and rebounding skills. On the defensive side of the ball, he is just as quick as he is on offense. He has great defensive instincts and discipline which has allows him to be a good on ball defender to the point where he is currently averaging nearly three steals per game this season. Due to his great wing-span, he is just as effective in the passing lanes and in transition. When it comes to rebounding the ball, he is even more underrated, if you look at his stats you will see he is averaging close to six rebounds a game but if you watch any of his film you will see he has had multiple games where he has grabbed ten rebounds. The point being that he is a point guard, who doesn’t mind going into the paint with the big man and making plays on the boards and since very few point guards do that, it stands out.
Now just like any player and prospect, Payton has his weaknesses and his main weakness is his jump shot. While his mid-range jump shot has improved over the last few years, his three-point shot is still a glaring weakness. Now unlike other guards, Payton doesn’t try to force a three-point shot, which is why he only averages a few three-point shot attempt per game but his limited three-point attempts haven’t stopped him from shooting 20 percent from three this season. I must say it’s not honestly surprising that his three-point shot needs work, because when you get to the rim so quickly and finish so consistently like he does, you are not forced to rely on your jump shot. However, with his NBA career right around the corner, he will eventually need to develop a consistent three-point shot, because he won’t be able to rely on his quickness and athleticism alone plus it makes him an even more talented and lethal player.
After that, my only concern may be the fact that he turns the ball over between three and four times per game. A lot of it comes from just him trying to force a play which is not uncommon for college point guards but it is something to watch. As always you always like to see a player like Payton put on more weight and muscle but there is no doubt that will probably take place this off-season or during his NBA career.
While many people aren’t aware of Payton yet, I would encourage those who don’t know about him to become familiar with him. One of the main reason I like Payton besides the facts that I mentioned above is because he is a competitor with unique experience. It wasn’t to long ago that Payton was invited to play on the Under-19 FIBA World Championship team and due to his great play that team went on to win the gold in Prague this past summer. Since playing with them this summer, Payton has truly been a better player and if he continues to work hard and stay competitive and coach-able there is no reason to think his game won’t continue to evolve.
Now, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I am not saying all of this to say that Payton will be taken with the No.1 pick in the NBA Draft, if he does indeed chose to forgo his senior season, I am simply saying that if he does decide to enter the NBA Draft this season, he can be the underrated first rounder that takes the league by surprise. If he surprises some people and decides to stay for his senior season, I think Payton has the potential to be possible lottery pick in next year’s draft, especially if he improves on the weaknesses I mentioned above. Regardless of what he decides, I think his future is bright. However, for now I look forward to seeing him finish his junior season strong and healthy and if you have yet to see him this season, you would be smart to watch him as soon as possible.
Written by LBeasley (Lauren Beasley), Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit