The Atlanta Hawks decided to shore up their front court situation and selected Adreian Payne out of Michigan State 15th overall.
Payne is someone I have loved all season after disliking him for his first three years in college. The shot that is so essential to his development as a new-wave NBA big man became more consistent in the final third of his junior season, and that carried over to his senior year, where he shot 42% from three-point range. He plays excellent interior defense, with a wingspan of 7’4 inches and a high-30s inch vertical leap. To top that off, he moves pretty well on defense for a guy who might play a majority of his minutes at center. Basically, Adreian Payne is the prototypical modern-day NBA center. So why did he fall to 15?
Well, first and foremost, Payne is 23 years old. I can’t remember the last player that old to be drafted in the top half of the first round. He was a late bloomer in college that didn’t really learn how to harness his skills until it was later on in his career. Second, Payne has a slight learning disability that might make teams a little bit wary of his ability to learn their systems. Finally, he was born with lungs that are smaller-than-average for his body, meaning he can get winded somewhat quickly.
With a lot of people, that would basically be three strikes against his draft stock. But with Payne, I don’t care. This is an exceptionally good human being that clearly wants to work hard to become an NBA player. Plus, he fits absolutely perfectly in Atlanta, where their offense is predicated upon getting space in the lane for Jeff Teague to drive. Paul Millsap took 212 threes this season, Pero Antic took 171, and the team itself was second in the NBA with 2116 attempts overall. This is Payne’s dream scenario to succeed in the NBA.
My guess is that he ends up coming off the bench the first season before replacing Paul Millsap next year, as Millsap has an expiring contract. Putting him next to Al Horford is going to create a lot of problems in the lane for opposing teams on offense. For a comparison, basically imagine a much more athletic Memo Okur. Payne has the potential to make that kind of impact, as long as a team is willing to work with him and develop his skills.