As we continue to look at possible draft prospects for the Chicago Bulls, we profile Elfrid Payton.
Late in the game in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament semifinals, point guard Elfrid Payton of Louisiana-Lafayette had the ball and a chance to seal the game. He takes a fadeaway jumper that hit nothing but air. Western Kentucky’s T.J. Price got the rebound and took off to try to score a game-winning bucket.
Price was looking at an easy layup. However, Payton ran to meet Price at halfcourt. He slid his feet, riding his hip and keeping his 6-8 wingspan extended up. He kept Price from getting the layup, making him instead to force up a tough runner. The ball went over the rim as time expired and gave Louisiana-Lafayette the victory.
The short sequence epitomizes Payton as a player. He has some trouble shooting, but has ability and willingness to play defense. At 6-3 and with that wingspan, he has good size and is very athletic at the point guard position.
What Payton does is stuff the stat sheet. In his career, he averaged 18.1 points per-40 minutes played, he dished out 6.2 assists, grabbed 6.4 rebounds, got 2.5 steals and attempted 8.2 free throws.
Payton has been shooting up the draft boards. He was originally projected as a mid-second round pick, but now most have him in the mid-first round, with some having him as a lottery pick.
Payton has a deadly first step, and a killer crossover, which helps him get to the basket at will. He is athletic and is great in transition. He finishes at the rim very well. He can create his own shot, and can break down defenders on the pick-and-roll, which will be good for him at the next level.
Payton’s defense is what attracts scouts, and is probably his most NBA-ready skill. He shows a high level of intensity on that end and has extremely quick feet which, with his long wingspan, allow him to go over the top on screens and stay in front of perimeter shooters.
Payton has good anticipation skills, being able to jump the passing lanes and getting him into transition. He showed some versatility as well, guarding players from point guards to power forwards. In fact, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament this year, when Louisiana Lafayette played Creighton, Payton was asked to cover Wooden Award recipient Doug McDermott, and he held his own.
Payton has great rebounding ability, and with added weight (he weighs 185 pounds now), he can get even better.
What Payton needs to improve on is his shooting. Even though he shot 48% overall, he actually shot 51% from 2-point range (most of those shots were around the basket). He shot a terrible 27% from three. He was a non-factor with his outside shot. Many defenses just sagged on him, daring him to beat them from the outside, but he couldn’t.
Payton also needs to work on his free throw shooting. Taking those 8 free throws a game, it is critical for him to make defenses pay for putting him there. He shot just 61% from the charity stripe, and he needs to improve that.
One interesting note on Payton is that although he is a junior, he enrolled at Louisiana-Lafayette a year early. He is just three weeks older than freshman Joel Embiid, two weeks older than sophomore Marcus Smart, and six months older than Tyler Ennis. He is a young prospect, but one with some good experience.
Having played in the Sun Belt Conference, some scouts wonder how Payton would do against elite talent. Many have had private workouts with some good talent, and he has done well, thus his stock has risen.
Elfrid Payton would be an interesting pick for the Bulls. Defensively, he would be coach Thibodeau’s dream come true. He would add to the defensive intensity the team has. He is athletic and has the ability to score, so he could help with giving the Bulls some easy baskets. He must improve his shooting, though, if he wants to have a long-term career in the NBA.