Payne reinvented himself as a stretch power forward mid-way through his junior season, after only taking four 3-point attempts in his first two and a half seasons of college basketball. He shot 142 3-pointers in his final 50 college games, making a very impressive 42% of them his senior year. Payne's release is fairly slow, as he dips the ball significantly on the catch and thus takes a while to get his shot off. Nevertheless, he's dangerous enough with his feet set that he can't be left open on the perimeter, which changes the complexion of the game and will be a very valuable weapon for his head coach to utilize in the NBA.
If a defender closes out too aggressively, Payne is capable of attacking the rim off one or two dribbles, either to finish strong at the rim or shoot a pull-up jumper. He hit a very respectable 35% of his off the dribble jumpers this season, and ranked as one of the best “around the basket” finishers in college basketball in the half-court. Payne converted an outstanding 70% of his attempts in these situations, thanks to his big hands, long arms and explosive leaping ability. While not freakishly agile or fast, particularly since he's added weight to his frame, Payne is very quick off his feet and came up with some really impressive finishes in his four years at Michigan State.
One major question mark NBA teams have revolves around his frame. Despite being one of the older players in this draft class, he still has a very weak lower body, with narrow hips and an overall build that could struggle with the wear and tear of an 82 game season. Payne's weak base makes it difficult for him to hold his ground in the paint on both ends of the floor. Will he be able to keep the stronger power forwards in the NBA from establishing and catching the ball with deep post-position? He got overpowered at times by younger college players, so there are some concerns here.
Defensively in general Payne has never been considered a real stalwart. His awareness is average at best, as his focus wavers at times and he often loses track of his man off the ball, being a step slow with his reaction time. Can he pick up on the much more complex schemes NBA coaches like to utilize? Payne is more susceptible to fatigue, as he has smaller lungs than the average person his size. When he's tired his effectiveness tends to deteriorate here. As his minutes increased over the last four years, his steal, block and offensive rebounding rates all fell off relative to his playing time, although part of that is due to the role he played.
Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Payne's basketball IQ was considered a major issue early on in his career, but he's improved as he's gotten older and more experienced. He went from being one of the worst passers in college basketball (4% AST% as a freshman/sophomore) to being right around average at his position, as he ranked 9th in this category of the 21 power forwards currently in our Top-100 prospects with 10% assist rate.
Nevertheless, it's not a stretch to say that his ability to read the floor isn't great, as it takes him a moment to process things and he's simply not an overly instinctive player in terms of his natural feel for the game. Playing power forward in a more complex offense like some NBA coaches like to run, with a 24 second shot clock as opposed to 35, that could be somewhat of a concern.
While Payne is very much a known commodity and in some ways could be considered a finished product at age 23, there's a comfort level in what he brings to the table and how easily he can be plugged into a NBA role. He improved significantly in each of his four years in college (as well as in the classroom), which indicates a strong work ethic, and is considered a very character individual who has overcome a lot in his life (his father was incarcerated on drug charges when he was a child, mother passed away when he was 13) to arrive where he is now. While other prospects may have a higher ceiling, his ability to play right away--and particularly stretch the floor, which is extremely valuable at his position in today's NBA—should make him a popular target for teams looking to plug a hole outside the lottery.
We've taken a more visual look at Payne's strengths and weaknesses thanks to game film from Michigan State in the following video scouting report, courtesy of Mike Schmitz.
All of our video scouting reports this season can be found here.