Elfrid Payton's NCAA career likely ended this weekend with a loss to Creighton in the Round of 64. We can now take a step back and conduct an inventory of everything he displayed this season as an NBA prospect, as well as the things he still has to improve on.
Payton stands out first and foremost thanks to the excellent physical tools he brings to the table as a point guard prospect. He measured 6-4 in shoes with a 6-7 wingspan by USA Basketball last summer, and is a very good athlete as well, showing great quickness in the open floor and the ability to play above the rim with ease.
Payton is a very good ball-handler, which makes him an excellent transition threat and allows him to get into the paint very effectively. He can create his own shot and break down defenders in pick and roll and one situations, showing good potential in this area as he continues to mature and polishes up his skill-level.
Despite averaging over 19 points per game, Payton looks very comfortable as a facilitator as well, utilizing his size very well to see over the top of defenses and solid court vision executing a variety of passes. He's obviously an unselfish player, sometimes to a fault, which we'll get into later.
Perhaps Payton's most attractive and likely also his most NBA-ready skill is his defense. He takes great pride in his work here, showing a high intensity level and extremely quick feet laterally, which allow him to get over the top of screens, and also stay in front of opponents on the perimeter. Payton has long arms, big hands and solid anticipation skills, which shows up in his ability to get in the passing lanes. He also contributes on the glass as you'd expect with his strong physical tools, which gets his team quite a few transition opportunities when he's being aggressive. Payton showed great versatility in college, often being asked to guard point guards through power forwards, as he displayed in the NCAA Tournament with some very solid possessions matching up with Doug McDermott. He'll get even better here as he continues to gain weight, as he has a thin frame at the moment which has yet to fill out.
One of the most interesting things about Payton is how incredibly young he is. He enrolled at Louisiana Lafayette as a 17-year old, and is thus only three weeks older than freshman Joel Embiid, two weeks older than sophomore Marcus Smart, and six months older than freshman Tyler Ennis. A very late bloomer, he made huge strides with his game between his freshman and sophomore seasons and then again between his sophomore and junior seasons, so it's very legitimate to wonder how much he can still improve in the next few years in a NBA system.
With that said, Payton still has his fair share of weaknesses, some of which could be quite damaging to his pro prospects if he's unable to address them in the next few years.
The most glaring is his outside shot, which is simply not a weapon by any means at this stage, as evidenced by his 26% 3-point and 59% free throw percentages. Opposing defenses regularly sag off him significantly daring him to punish them from the outside, which he's unable to do at the moment.
He's also not an extraordinary finisher around the basket in the half-court, particularly considering the level of competition he plays at and the physical advantage he regularly enjoys. His lack of strength and avoidance of using his left hand contributes here, but he's also a little bit passive in the way he chooses to attack defenses at times, settling for floaters, not initiating contact, and not looking as fearless as you might hope inside the paint considering his limitations as a shooter. There are some concerns about how much of a scorer in general he might be in the NBA.
Payton's lackadaisical approach shows up in his very high turnover rate, which ranks 2rd amongst Top-100 prospect point guards. He gets a little careless with the ball at times, making lazy passes or not protecting the ball effectively, which is somewhat a product of his laid-back demeanor.
After playing only seven games this season against Top-100 competition, NBA teams will be eager to see Payton in private workout settings matched up against other elite point guard prospects to get a better handle on how he actually stacks up. He has some very intriguing attributes, along with some notable flaws, which make his true draft range a little difficult to peg precisely at the moment.
Matchups against the likes of Louisville, Baylor, Creighton, Arkansas, Louisiana Tech and Georgia State have given us ample opportunity to evaluate Payton's very defined strengths and weaknesses as a prospect, which we've done in the following video scouting report, courtesy of Mike Schmitz.
All of our video scouting reports this season can be found here.