Elfrid Payton: Homecoming

Published: July 6, 2018

By Ryan Hebert (@RyanHebert89)

College and more: March 21st, 2014 Elfrid Payton, and Doug McDermott are squaring off in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Payton’s 14th seeded Ragin Cajuns versus McDermott’s 3rd seeded Blue Jays’. Payton is 6’4 point guard guarding the 6’8 forward McDermott nearly the entire game, unusual, but Payton won the Lefty Driesell-NCAA defensive player of the year award and this is a task he wouldn’t have any other way. There was a stretch in the second half where Payton held McDermott scoreless for 14 straight minutes, and the Cajuns got within 4 with 2:30 left, thanks to two Elfrid Payton free throws. If you can remember, nobody could guard Doug McDermott that year hence the nickname “Doug McBuckets”, but Payton didn’t shy away from the challenge. McDermott went on to hit 3 straight 3’s and seal the game, ending with 30 points and Creighton won 76-66. Payton ended the game with a line of 24 points 8 rebounds 3 steals and 3 assists. He gave a mid-major 14th seed a chance to win an NCAA tournament game they frankly had no business being in, and he fought tooth and nail every game of the season to get them to that point. Interestingly enough, three months later, Payton was drafted 10th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers before a draft day trade to the Orlando Magic. McDermott was drafted 11th by the Denver Nuggets and was also part of a draft-day trade to the Chicago Bulls.

The Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Bob Marlin often lauded Payton’s defensive efforts, tenacity, and most of all, his relentless work ethic. The week before the NCAA tournament he spearheaded a 13 point comeback in the Sunbelt tournament vs Georgia state to win in overtime and the Cajuns won their first NCAA tournament bid since 2005. Payton is a competitor.

My Dad has been sitting in the exact same spot, with the exact same people, at the exact same place for every Louisiana Lafayette basketball game since the Cajun Dome was constructed in 1984, and before that, he was sitting with those same people for Cajun games at the Blackham Coliseum. A lot of my childhood was spent attending these games. I called him immediately when it was reported that Elfrid Payton signed with the Pelicans on a one year deal. My dad is not an emotional person but, I could hear the excitement in his voice. He said he had to go to call all of his friends about the news. The next day, he said each one of his friends was talking about getting season tickets to Pelicans games. He also said he needed to call LUS fiber (one of the main cable providers in the Lafayette area) because, the year before they stopped carrying Fox Sports NOLA meaning, no Pelicans games and this had to be fixed. Why is this a big deal? The Lafayette area is largely removed from the scope of NBA basketball and the Pelicans, interest in them falls to the wayside. Sure, there was some buzz during the playoff run but if you walk into the Academy sports store there, you will not be able to find any Pelicans Merchandise, you can buy a Los Angeles Dodgers shirt though. Most of the time, before this year, if you went to Buffalo Wild Wings you would have to ask them specifically to put on a Pelicans game. The Saints, Cajuns, and LSU reign supreme in the Lafayette area. Some buzz for the Pelicans would be refreshing, and Payton’s signing can do exactly that.

Magic/Suns Saga 2014 – 18: Payton’s career with the Magic did not go ideally. The organization has been in flux since Dwight Howard demanded out and was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012. With the constant roster and management turnover, Paytons’ defense seemed to have gone with it. He’s looked largely lost as a pro at the defensive level, this could be because of the roster changes and never had a steady coach or he could still be figuring it out. We know he has the tools 6’4 in shoes with a 6’7 wingspan and he showed the promise in college, it’s why he climbed up the draft boards from a pick projected to be in the 20s to the late lottery at 10 overall. Payton has never been a good shooter, but he can get to the line and facilitate. Below, is his career 2017-2018 heatmap chart from (NBAsavant.com)

As you can see, he isn’t a good 3 point shooter but he can draw fouls and get to the line. He also isn’t a great free throw shooter (65% for the 17-18 season). What Payton does well are, play in pace, pass, attack the rim.

At this past year’s trade deadline, Payton was traded to the Phoenix Suns for a 2nd round draft pick. Many NBA fans were saying “All it took was a second-round pick for Payton, why didn’t my team do that!”). He went from a bad situation to a worse one. The Magic were simply just bad, the Suns were trying to be bad actively tanking at the time. The Suns best player, Devin Booker, missed a large majority of the time Payton was out on the floor for Phoenix. A nonshooting point guards best friend – is shooters. Payton struggled mightily often losing playing time to Tyler Ulis (who Phoenix also let go). Phoenix did not offer Payton his qualifying offer, letting him be an unrestricted free agent.

What’s Next: Elfrid Payton seems ready for a fresh start, cutting off his signature hairstyle this past summer and signing a 1 year 2.7 million dollar deal with the New Orleans Pelicans. Payton is going to be getting his fresh start while seeing familiar faces. He’s returning home to New Orleans, where he played high school ball at John Ehret. After a tumultuous NBA start, he’s still only 24 years old and has a lot to prove, there’s no better place to do it than home. Payton was initially brought in to be the backup point guard behind Rajon Rondo but with Rondo unexpectedly bolting for the glamour of the Los Angeles Lakers and Lebron James, Payton could possibly be thrust into the starting role. Nylon Calculus projects him to garner 1.1 extra wins for the Pelicans and his on-court production can be comparable to Rajon Rondo’s as seen here.

Overall, Payton projects to be around a league average starter with upside. The perfect player does not come to a team for a portion of the Bi-Annual exception and Payton is by no means perfect. But he is still young and he is going to work his tail off every day. Payton is the only non-New Orleans jersey I own — a Christmas present from my little sister in 2014 because she knows what’s important to me. I’m looking forward to buying his Pelicans jersey – hopefully from that Lafayette Academy.


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