The Minnesota Timberwolves acquired Adreian Payne, 24, from the Atlanta Hawks about one week before the trade deadline and, shortly thereafter, traded Thaddeus Young to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Kevin Garnett. Because of the injuries suffered by Anthony Bennett and Robbie Hummel, respectively, Payne and Garnett will fill up most of the minutes left in wake of Young's departure.
Let's get right to the point: The Wolves are shorthanded in the front-court and Flip Saunders is depending on Payne and Garnett for some pretty hefty contributions.
Garnett (38) may certainly have a positive impact when he's on the floor, but he can't play significant minutes on a nightly basis. Thus, Payne, who didn't really play much with Atlanta, will be a critical part of Saunders' rotations going forward.
Unsurprisingly, Payne looked disheveled in his first few appearances with Minnesota as his mind and body are still in preseason form. Having been here no longer than a month, he's hardly had time to become fully acquainted with teammates, let alone the playbook. What did stand out, though, is Payne's size and athleticism.
Let's go over the highlights, and lowlights, of Payne's time in Minnesota thus far.
Payne will see a lot of pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop situations and be expected to rebound at both ends of the floor. Prepare to see a lot of these things when he's in the game.
In the first example he sets a screen for Rubio and, after seeing the shot go up, Payne crashes the glass.
Above, you see Payne set an effective screen and proceed to keep the play alive, albeit momentarily, with by tipping the ball off the backboard.
Below, the defense decides to double Gary Neal so Payne releases, rolls and receives the pass before missing a difficult layup. Remember, although he's 24, Payne hasn't seen a lot of playing time this season and should tighten up these skills overtime.
Thus far this season, Payne has connected on just 2-of-8 field goals as the roll man (per NBA stats). This will improve though, at least I expect it to, because he's still trying to figure things out.
For those that may not be familiar, the pick-&-pop is like the pick-&-roll, only the screener doesn't gravitate toward the hoop. Instead, like below, Rubio draws the attention of the defense after going around a screen, before kicking it back to Payne.
This is a good look although I'm sure there are some that will mention Payne connects on a long two point shot, rather than a three but alas. Points are points, though, so it's a start.
In the post
Payne has displayed a number of post moves in just a short time with Minnesota. He can go to work on either block and is capable of finishing with his left and right hands.
Here, Payne backs down Zach Randolph.
Payne drop steps and attempts to score with his left hand, but misses. He makes a nice second jump to try for the offensive rebound but the play is whistled as a foul is called, sending Payne to the line for two free throws.
Minutes later, now guarded by Jon Leuer, Payne receives the ball in a similar spot on the floor but, instead of spinning toward the baseline, he performs a fadeaway jumper. And hits.
Notice how Payne didn't revert back to the move he went with against Randolph while being guarded by Leuer. Having too many post moves is never a bad thing. It's predictability post players should try to avoid.
Now on the other side of the floor, matched up against Spencer Hawes, Payne backs into the lane, spins and tries a hook/push shot with his right hand.
It's a good look, it just doesn't go in the basket.
Later, Payne obtains the ball near the elbow and stands in triple threat position before backing Glen Davis closer to the basket.
Payne takes the defender toward the baseline before spinning back into the open floor, elevating and trying another hook/push shot--only this time--with his left hand. Again, the shot doesn't fall, but this is a solid display of another back to the basket move in his arsonal.
As a shooter
Payne has not shot the ball well in terms of field goal percentage. I'm not going to pretend otherwise. He's shot 31.1% from the field since arriving in Minnesota, and is even worse from three point range--Payne has made only one of six attempted 3's. But that doesn't mean he is incapable of improving and, at the very least, defenses will have to respect Payne's ability to hit from outside.
Below are two examples plays where the ball handler (Rubio, LaVine) dribbles right and probes the defense, before kicking it out to the weakside at the area near the elbow.
Payne should find that, once (if) opposing defenses start to respect his ability, making shots will open up more ways to score. For instance...
Hawes closes out with urgency expecting Payne to attempt the outside shot. Knowing this, Payne puts the ball on the deck and heads to the rim and almost posterizes Glen Davis. He missed the dunk but went to the line for two free throws.
I'll start by saying Payne's mass simply doesn't allow opponents to back him into the paint. This isn't an easy task. Sometimes, just preventing a post player from getting where he wants to go is a win in and of itself.
Here, Zach Randolph attempts a running hook shot but commits a traveling violation.Payne's defending didn't make Randolphs attempt any easier.
Below,Randolph doesn't like what he sees--potentially due to an earlier possession(above)--so he retreats and kicks the ball back out to the perimeter. Not bad.
However, Payne has a lot of things to learn on the defensive side of the ball. Whether he needs to improve certain fundamentals or spend more time in the film room, studying opponents tendencies, is beyond my pay grade.
Here, Payne fails to cut off the baseline and allows Marc Gasol to blow past him.
Payne, recovering, commits a silly foul and Gasol completes the three point play.
A similar instance occurred over the weekend against the Chicago Bulls.
(Ignore the weird imagery on the right)
See the similarity within these two clips?
Maybe this is an easy fix and Payne just needs to be reminded to cut off baseline. Still, this is a concept instilled at the youth level and repeatedly making this mistake should be considered unacceptable. He's 24, so he's an old rookie, but Payne can still develop good habits as an NBA player. In fact, Payne seems fundamentally sound in a lot of ways.
It's tough to tell, but Payne makes a good close out and contest of a 3-pointer launched by Nikola Mirotic. He doesn't fly by Mirotic in search of a highlight real block. Payne shuffles his feet, staying in control, knowing Mirotic is unafraid of putting the ball on the floor and creating off the dribble. This prevents Payne from encroaching on the shooter's right to land. So often do we see players flying at shooters, committing silly fouls for shots that they likely aren't really contesting.
Additionally, Payne is one of Minnesota's better P&R defenders. His lengthy stature helps to protect the rim and may influence opposing guards into settling for midrange jumps shots. With some instruction from Garnett.....well, let's just say Payne--and the entire team--should slowly improve when it comes to defending P&R's.
But, admittedly, I just didn't log that many possessions in which Payne defended the P&R in games against Chicago and Memphis. On Monday, the Clippers didn't seem to attack Payne using the P&R. Instead, Chris Paul and Austin Rivers picked on Gorgui Dieng--who has a lot of work to do on the defensive end. So, sorry for the lack of visuals here.
It's something I'll keep an eye on going forward.
Could Payne ultimately become a rim protector? (Something the Wolves have lacked for awhile now.) I'm not sure. The above image shows him leaving DeAndre Jordan and perhaps altering--and maybe even tipping--Chris Paul's layup attempt. The basket is no good, and the Wolves head the other way. Now, this could have very easily ended up in an alley-oop dunk had Paul just lobbed it in the air toward Jordan, but it wasn't.
Athleticism and basic skills
This is the fun part. Payne is admirably athletic and it shows when he's on the floor. It may look wild and uncontrollable, but once (if) he harnesses his abilities Payne could become--at least--a very solid role player. Whether or not he'll end up being worth the first rounder Minnesota gave up for him remains to be seen.
Here, Payne catches the ball in the post and quickly recognizes that two defenders are watching him. This isn't exactally a strong double-team, so I won't call it that, but, it's encouraging to see Payne make a smart pass in this situation.
Above, Payne is the secondary option on an inbound play. He doesn't set a very good screen, but he does space the floor and connect on the open shot attempt.
Above, the Wolves are getting down the floor after a missed basket. Payne sets a strong screen for Gary Neal, who hits the jumper. It's a better screen than the one we saw Payne set on the aforementioned inbound play. Consistency would be nice to see, but the ability isn't a bad place to start when assessing any player--not just Payne.
There is still a lot to learn about Payne. What he could bring to the Wolves someday, if the potential develops into tangible skills, will certainly benefit the roster long-term. He may already be putting additional pressure on Anthony Bennett to become a better player. Payne unquestionably fits into what Flip Saunders' scheme and will get playing time at the 4 and 5 position, especially with the unstable status of Nikola Pekovic being what it is.
We'll have to keep watching Payne refine his skills, but he's been granted a golden opportunity to just get out there and play some basketball--to see what works, what doesn't work and how to apply certain skills so that he can become a successful NBA player for years to come.