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A closer look at Adreian Payne

Payne has a lot of potential as an athlete and in combination with Ricky Rubio, but he doesn't come without concerns about health, production, the playbook the Wolves run

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We took a brief look at Adreian Payne before the draft. It was suspected (and Flip confirmed it yesterday) that, of the players available at that #13 pick in June, Zach LaVine and Adreian Payne were #1-2. And apparently they were so close on his wish list that he never managed to fully set it aside.

So with the Payne Train now boarding in Minneapolis, now is the time to take a much more detailed look.

To start, here's Payne's fours seasons at Michigan State.

Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks FG% 3pt% FT%
Freshman 9.0 2.5 2.4 0.1 0.3 0.8 .472 .000 .486
Sophomore 17.9 7.0 4.2 0.3 0.7 1.1 .566 .500 .697
Junior 25.6 10.5 7.6 0.8 0.8 1.3 .546 .381 .848
Senior 28.1 16.4 7.3 1.3 0.5 0.9 .536 .423 .790
PER TS% Reb% Ast% Stl% Blk% eFG% Usage WS/48
Freshman 15.3 .480 15.1 3.4 1.8 9.9 .472 18.4 .087
Sophomore 21.9 .602 14.1 3.6 2.3 6.9 .569 20.0 .201
Junior 24.0 .630 17.4 6.3 1.8 5.6 .578 20.7 .217
Senior 25.1 .607 15.2 10.2 1.0 3.8 .565 28.7 .200

Payne's four college seasons can most accurately described as "all over the place", which is not generally something you want from a player who's minutes and usage went up linearly. His shooting and rebounding fluctuated on a yearly basis, his blocks went steadily down, and I'm not sure what to make of his steals at all.

Making a huge impact on his production was his health. Payne has an abnormally low lung capacity, which, of course, limits his stamina. While there are ways to combat the effects of that....just like how Anthony Bennett has a process for dealing with his breathing...this is obviously something that doesn't just go away. It's not like he can just magically grow bigger lungs.

As you can both imagine, as well as see above, this impacted Payne's production, particularly early on. In his freshman season, Tom Izzo would get routinely frustrated when he couldn't play Payne more than 3-4 minutes at a time.

"It bothers me, because then when I put him back in, two minutes in, he was just hunched over. So I talked to him about it. I think some of it is in his head, too, but there's definitely some of it that is an issue we're trying to deal with.

"If you watch him, sometimes after a few minutes, he's down on his knees. That's why we take him out. We don't take him out because we want to take him out."

Even in his junior and senior seasons, when Payne had gotten a pretty good handle on the issue, he was still playing shortened minutes; 28.1 as a senior. By comparison, Anthony Davis averaged 32 minutes as a freshman.

Taking the models of ESPN's Kevin Pelton (WARP), Andrew Johnson of Counting the Baskets (PAWS) and our own Layne Vashro's EWP, Payne's outlook compared to his peers is not great.

Joel Embiid 88.14 84.50 100.00
Jabari Parker 81.36 95.76 68.42
Andrew Wiggins 61.02 70.11 53.29
Zach LaVine 54.42 56.46 26.32
Glenn Robinson III 49.15 56.64 27.63
Adreian Payne 37.29 30.36 13.16

A gigantic factor in this is Payne's age. He's a rookie, but already 23 years old (he'll be 24 next week). Merely decent production at an advanced age is not a great combination.

For a 4-year player to be highly rated, he has to be unbelievably dominant. Almost unrealistically so. The classic example is Tim Duncan, who averaged a staggering 23 points, 16 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 3.6 blocks per game as a senior at Wake Forest. He attempted 10 free throws a game. His PER was in the 40s. That gives you some context on how the age curve affects draft prospects. If you're going to be a 4-year athlete, you have to be impossibly great to still look great by the end of it.

Fortunately, for a player in Payne's position, the age factor isn't such a huge deal in practice. He's wasn't a top pick and isn't going to be asked to play like one. Players taken in the lower half of the first round should be more of the instant production types. You're not drafting those guys to be franchise cornerstones (unless you're freakin' San Antonio....) so it's a lot less about potential and more about readiness, in which case older age generally is an advantage. The Wolves aren't looking for Adreian to be the face of the franchise. They have Rubio and Wiggins (and in Flip's mind, I think, Zach) for that.

The upside is that Payne has all the tools you'd want in a modern NBA power forward. He's 6'10", 240 lbs in shoes, with a tremendous 7'4" wingspan and 9'1" standing reach, which physically speaking puts him in really good company with names like Derrick Favors, Taj Gibson and Emeka Okafor. Payne is also unbelievably athletic, in a way that's reminiscent of prime-years Kenyon Martin. Adreian is big, physical, and drops from the jumbotron when he leaps. That's a good start.

Payne also has the versatility you'd be looking for. He can post up. He can shoot the three. He can work off the ball as a catch-and-shoot player or handle it to attack the hoop (Payne was an excellent finisher in college, with a 1.47 PPP mark at the rim) He's an extremely active rebounder and, although his awareness certainly needs work, has the reach and bounce to be an effective shot blocker. At his size, in this era, he can even potentially be a decent center in certain of situations.

So despite the poor metrics, I think Payne can be a good player, in the right situation and given the right chance.

The question, then, is will Flip Saunders use him effectively? As we've discussed before, coaching has as much an impact on player production as anything, and the job of the coach is to assess the strengths of his players and then put them in situations most likely to facilitate their success.

Payne is a pick-and-roll stretch-4 on a team that intentionally eschews the three point line and builds its playbook on midrange curl action. So....that's not encouraging. I won't get into another full-on debate here about Flip versus the modern NBA, but suffice it to say that Payne appears to be a remarkably odd fit for what this team's coach tends to run. Adreian is a guy you want in a Mike D'Antoni system, which is fairly the opposite of the Flip system.

(And it should be noted that, between declining a draft pick to shuffle Anthony Bennett on to Philadelphia, and now spending a pick to acquire Payne, the Wolves have essentially burned two first rounders to avoid having to develop Bennett)

As I've brought up over and over, the blueprint for building around a Ricky Rubio is not complicated: one player to effectively run the pick-and-roll with, and a bunch of guys to shoot threes. It's a formula that's tested and timeless:

  • John Stockton, Karl Malone, Jeff Hornacek
  • Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Hersey Hawkins
  • Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Kerry Kittles
  • Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic
  • Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili
  • Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, everyone else on the roster
  • Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, DannyGreenLeonardJosephMills

It's not complicated. It's not complicated.

The Kidd/Martin duo was one of the best of the early 2000s. In their time, they were every bit as much a thing as Shaq and Kobe.

Now, I'm not saying Ricky or Payne will achieve the greatness those two did: Kidd is a guaranteed Hall of Famer, and he and Martin made consecutive Finals runs together. But just in terms of how they operate on the court, Payne has the potential to be the Kenyon Martin to Rubio's Jason Kidd. In theory...their games are perfect compliments. Payne's constantly in motion, and his skillset makes him an ideal target for all those Rubio kickouts and Rubioops.

If they are given the freedom to play that way.

So if you're looking for the advancement here, it's that the Wolves have potentially collected the second piece of the Ricky Trio of Basketball Awesomeness. Provided you believe Payne can rise above his projection, and then reconcile that with Flip's Mid-range Way™ and the fact that Bennett is/was also supposed to be the second piece. Personally, I'm bullish on Payne. You guys probably realized that before the draft. But there's no sugar coating that success will be an uphill battle for him and for the team.

But at the very least, he's a ton of fun to watch, and should be all the more so next to Ricky.