Orlando trade Elfrid Payton to Phoenix in exchange for a second round pick

Very late on in the last-minute trade deadline crush, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com reported that the Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic made a trade. The Magic have sent point guard Elfrid Payton to the Suns, in exchange for a 2018 second-round pick from Phoenix – due to the Suns still having cap room, there was no need for the Suns to include any players into the deal.

The pick Phoenix will send will be the second least favourable of all three of the Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets’ 2018 second-round picks, all of which the Grizzlies currently own through various deals. The Grizzlies agreed to send the second least favourable one of them to Phoenix in the summer as incentive for taking on the contract of Troy Daniels – the least favourable goes to the Houston Rockets in exchange for the draft rights to Dillon Brooks, while they will keep the most favourable.

With the Grizzlies currently slated to be picking at #35, the Hornets at #41 and the Heat at #46, it seems as though the #41 pick or something in a very similar range to that is what Phoenix will be sending out for Payton.

And that is all Orlando stand to get from the player they once thought would be the answer at point guard.

Payton was a high draft pick, going tenth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. And he was only picked tenth in order to get even more value out of the team that really wanted him. Sam Hinkie’s Philadelphia 76ers drafted Payton tenth knowing how badly the Magic (who picked twelfth) wanted him; in the end, Hinkie, ever the master asset accummulator, was able to draft Payton’s rights alone for those of Dario Saric (picked twelfth), Philadelphia’s own 2017 pick back (previously given up in the Dwight Howard deal and later used on Jayson Tatum, and a 2015 second round pick (later used on Willy Hernangomez).

Orlando gave up those two assets, one of which was an elite asset, just to move up two spots and get their man. They really, really wanted Elfrid Payton at one point. So why don’t they want him now?

The main knock on Payton coming into the league was his poor shooting, not only from outside but from many areas of the court. And in this aspect of the game, Payton has made a marked improvement.

He still shoots mostly two-point shots, the vast majority of which are in the paint, and he still overly tries to avoid getting fouled while doing so. However, Payton has improved his finishing at the rim immensely, shooting a sky high 70.3% from that range this season compared to 51.5% as a rookie. He is also shooting 40.5% between three and 16 feet, and although he is still a bad foul shooter (63.2%) and a low-volume three-point shooter (1.5 three-point attempts per game), he is at least now a much better one (37.3% this season, up from 26.2% as a rookie). 

Payton is a decent scorer and a willing if not hugely gifted passer and playmaker, who is unselfish and does not make many mistakes. He has improved a bit, if not massively, and he only turns 24 in a fortnight. He sounds like the sort of point guard a rebuilding team should want to kick the tyres on, which explains why Phoenix are doing so.

But Orlando are also a rebuilding team, and it seems they have seen enough.

What that flattering description of Payton above overlooks is the defensive end of the court. And the worrying reality is that Payton is among the worst defensive players in the league, particularly at the guard position.

In pick-and-roll action, Payton is routinely floundering between the screener and the ballhandler, not really guarding either. He somehow manages to give up the drive and the jump shot at the same time, and applies no meaningful ball pressure at any point. Payton has led the Magic in steals, which is not irrelevant here, but that is merely one facet of defence. In all the ones that are harder to measure, he is found wanting.

This should be a concern for the Suns, who are also wanting badly for defence. If Phoenix are to try and press forward with a core of Payton, Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and this year’s high pick, then they need to know that Jackson will be covering defensively for the entire backcourt. And that will be a problem.

Being as young as he still is, there is time for Payton to turn this around. And it is also worth noting that, in leaving the Magic, he leaves a team that has not had much success in developing talent for a quite a few years now. Floundering throughout his time with the team, the Magic gave Payton a starting spot quite readily, yet the disjointedness and constant flux of the team around him will not have helped his development, particularly as a point guard.

The projection however is headed the wrong direction. Payton has made incremental improvements as a scorer, yet he remains a fairly sedate playmaker in the half court, and his defence has gone backwards. Clearly having reconciled the fact that Payton will not be a part of the team going forward, and not prepared to battle with the restricted free agency of a player they are no longer enamoured with, the Magic took the best available deal for Payton, and while getting a second round pick in the 40s is nothing like having a combination of Tatum, Saric and Hernangomez, it is at least better than nothing.

The Suns, though, need to know what they are buying. They still need a point guard for the future, and Payton is young enough to be one. But that doesn’t make him one by default.

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