Gary Payton II is the type of player you absolutely love to have on your side but hate to go up against. He’s a pesky, relentless defender that’s going to be right up in your jersey from the moment he steps onto the court until the moment he gets called off. When Payton II is out there, he’s looking to snatch your soul, and quite often, he does just that to opposing players. But Payton II simply doesn’t get enough time to shine.
Before we dive into that, it’s important to acknowledge Gary Payton II’s road to success with the Warriors. He embodies everything that this collective group of players has ever been about. Payton’s road to the NBA wasn’t an easy one, which is similar to many of his current teammates, but his road was a little extra bumpy.
Nobody in their right mind was projecting Stephen Curry’s ascension to stardom in the NBA. Curry was written off by many scouts to be too small or not athletic enough or that he was just a “shooter”. Hell, even Warriors fans themselves booed the living crap out of owner Joe Lacob when he first chose to keep Curry over Monta Ellis back in 2013. Klay Thompson was a lottery pick but nobody, outside of maybe Golden State’s front office, thought he had the type of two-way potential that he quickly blossomed into. Draymond Green was the 35th pick. Jordan Poole was taken 28th. Kevon Looney was the last pick of the first round. Andrew Wiggins was almost completely written off after his tenure in Minnesota. Does anymore need to be said?
Almost every individual on this Warriors roster has defied the odds at some point or another in their NBA career and that’s only amplified when talking about Gary Payton II. Payton II has been waived five times in his career and has continuously scratched and clawed his way for a legitimate shot in the NBA. He spent the majority of the previous five years bouncing around the G-League and taking 10-day contracts in the NBA but he just couldn’t stick. Until now.
Why Does GPII Deserve More Minutes?
It’s really simple, to be quite honest. To give you the numbers first, Payton II has the fourth-highest net rating differential on the Warriors (3.3), according to NBA.com. To put that into context, when Payton II is on the floor Golden State outscores their opponent by an average of 10.1 points per 100 possession and when he’s off the court the Warriors outscore opponents by an average of 6.8 points per 100 possessions, leaving the difference to be 3.3 points.
No one single advanced statistic is an end all be all, especially when talking about net rating, defensive rating, and/or offensive rating because these really aren’t individual stats – there are four other guys on the floor that must be taken into consideration, but they can be an indicator of things especially when comparing players on the same team.
Part of what makes Payton II so special is the versatility that he brings on both ends of the floor. He can grab the rebound and push the ball up the floor himself and he can also sprint the lane and finish at the rim with an emphatic jam. He can work out of the mid-post as a passer (he only has 35 assists on the season but he’s capable), he’s a willing screen setter, and he can be utilized as a cutter or even spot up from 3 where he shoots 37.7% and an even better 42.5% from the corners.
Defensively, Payton II is an absolute ball hound. He averages 1.3 steals per game in just over 16 minutes per game and opponents shoot just 42.1% against him. Considering he’s typically matched up with the other team’s best perimeter player when he’s on the court, that’s pretty darn impressive. Mix in his athleticism at 6’3 with a 6’8 wingspan (comparable to that of Jrue Holiday), he can comfortably match up with any guard in the league and his length allows him to be able to check some forwards as well.
Not only does The Young Glove pass the analytics test, but he also passes the eye test with flying colors; he’s is just one of those guys who makes things happen when he’s out on the court. The thing with Payton is you can always count on him to contribute in some way or another. He’s had a number of 7+ rebound games, he’s had multiple games where he’s made 3+ triples, he’s had plenty of double-digit scoring games, he’s had games with multiple blocks, and multiple games with 3 or 4 steals. He just finds ways to contribute on a game-to-game basis.
His raw statistical numbers don’t really jump out at you but his impact when he’s on the floor is clear and Steve Kerr needs to find more minutes for the son of a legend.
How To Get GPII More Minutes
The tough part of giving one guy more minutes is that somebody else is forced to get fewer minutes. Dividing up minutes can be tough for a coach and the conversation that has to be had with the player getting fewer minutes can’t be easy. A lot of times people seem to forget the human aspect that goes into sports and decisions like this one aren’t as easy to make as they may seem to an outsider.
But, Kerr gets paid to get this team to win as many ball games as they can and while the Warriors have had zero trouble winning games this season, increasing GPII’s minutes will help them do so even more.
So who’s the odd man out, you may ask? Well, that would be Damion Lee. This is extremely tough to say because as I’ve closely followed the Dubs this season, Lee has become one of my favorite role players across the league. Lee isn’t the most skilled or naturally gifted player out on the court but he just finds ways to grind things out and do his job. Not only that but he’s also very clearly a top-notch teammate. He’s always one of the first guys up on the bench cheering and acting a fool when his teammates are balling out. You always want to see a guy like Lee succeed, but Gary Payton II is just a better option night in and night out.
Lee was a huge part of the Warriors’ early-season success and he still typically comes through when called upon. Even just last night he buried four long balls as he helped Golden State beat the Jazz in a game that came down to the very last shot. And that’s why it’s difficult to take some, or all, of his minutes away.
Lee is a much different player than Payton II and as he displayed against Utah last night, he can put up points in a hurry but he just doesn’t do enough to warrant playing him more minutes than GPII on a night-to-night basis. There will be some nights when the Warriors go through dry spells and Kerr might want to see if Lee’s shooting can get them going but as much as I love Lee, he should be more of a situational player than he’s been this season, especially with Klay Thompson back.
Lee has earned minutes, don’t get me wrong, but for now, I’d like to see his minutes cut in half and the rest given to Payton II, which would get GPII up to about 26 minutes per contest. Payton II is similar to Draymond Green in the sense that his impact isn’t always presented in the box score. GPII’s defense and ability to make winning plays on both ends of the floor isn’t something that can be calculated by statistics – it’s something you see with your eyes. It’s like when the home crowd gets ignited by something and viewers can just feel that momentum shift. You can feel things shift for the better when Gary Payton II steps onto the court.
Things will get even trickier for Kerr and his rotation as Thompson’s minutes go up as the season goes on but GPII shouldn’t get the raw end of the deal – he’s simply too valuable. I’d like to see Lee slowly phased out of the regular rotation as the season goes on and have those minutes split between Payton II and Thompson.
As the old saying goes, “Defense wins championships”, and Gary Payton II is an elite defender. It may be a tough decision from a personal standpoint and that shouldn’t be overlooked but this is a business and from a business standpoint Gary Payton II deserves to be on the floor more. It’s really that simple.