Top NBA Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences, Part 9: Prospects 18-21|
November 7, 2014
|Fumi Nakamura/The News|
Isaiah Canaan's graduation left Murray State in a lurch and many expected Steve Prohm's program to enter a prolonged rebuilding phase. Yet, by the end of the 2013-2014 season, the Racers sat atop the OVC West standings again with a 23-11 record and won the postseason CIT after narrowly losing the OVC's automatic NCAA Tournament bid to Eastern Kentucky. None of that would have been possible without the efforts of freshman point guard Cameron Payne. Payne not only transitioned seamlessly into Canaan's large role in Murray State's offense, but he also earned both OVC Freshman of the Year and All-OVC First Team honors in the process, and was recently named to the 2015 Cousy Watch List. Now, with Murray State favored to win the OVC and without the element of surprise working in his favor, the Payne must build on his stellar freshman campaign and prove to scouts that he is worthy of consideration as an NBA prospect.
At 6'2, with a skinny and long 175-pound frame, Payne has decent height for the point guard position, but he must get considerably stronger before he is able to hold his own against NBA caliber athletes. This is because while he is a good athlete and very quick in the open floor, he is neither exceptionally explosive off the dribble from a stand-still, nor a high flyer around the basket.
Payne is able to compensate for his lack of elite athleticism through his advanced instincts on the offensive end of the floor. He commanded 30% of Murray State's overall possessions, which ranked second behind Jabari Parker among all freshmen prospects, while posting a solid 54% TS%. His 20.4 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted situated him among the most prolific scoring point guards in our database last season.
Nearly a third of Payne's possessions came in pick-and-roll situations, where he established himself as a dangerous threat from day one. As a scorer in these situations, Payne showed the ability to take his man off of the dribble or pull up into a jump shot, utilizing his solid quickness and ball-handling ability, as well as his advanced scoring instincts and tremendous aggressiveness. His proficiency operating out of the pick-and-roll is complemented by his mid-range game, as he looked comfortable pulling up for a jump shot or a runner in the lane, making a solid 37% of his off the dribble jumpers on the season.
While Payne's overall shooting percentages aren't much to write home about, his consistent shooting mechanics combined with his extremely quick release and solid elevation leaves room for optimism regarding how he'll develop in this area down the road. Payne made 34.5% of his 3-pointers last season, likely more due to his questionable shot selection than a lack of skill. That's partly a function of the huge role he played in Murray State's offense, as well as his own overconfidence and tendencies for taking extremely high difficulty jumpers early in the offense, sometimes from well beyond the college line. Regardless, scouts will be expecting Payne to become a more efficient offensive option as his college career progresses.
Payne does not have an extraordinary first step, and he can be somewhat turnover prone due to his often overly ambitious forays to the rim and preference for driving right. With that said, he shows savvy operating off the dribble at times, and does a decent job of getting inside the paint and using his creativity to generate shots, even if he can't always manufacture a great deal of space to get them off cleanly. As he continues to mature physically, and learns how to operate at different speeds and read the court better, he certainly has room to grow as a shot-creator in the half-court.
Payne converted only 44% of his shots inside the paint last season, due to his tendency for settling for difficult floaters rather than driving all the way to the rim and finishing strong. This also shows up in transition, where he converted just 42% of his field goal attempts, a very poor rate. He struggles to finish over big men and through contact as a result of his lack of strength and standout explosiveness, and doesn't have a great feel for knowing his limitations yet. Getting stronger will help him here, as will developing his ability to finish with both hands.
Payne did a nice job of mixing up his scoring with his passing last season, as his 6.3 assists per 40 minutes pace adjusted ranked favorably among point guards in our database even if he proved to be fairly turnover prone, as well. Payne shows solid vision off of the dribble, even if he tended to be a bit ambitious and loose with his passes at times. Notably, however, he did a great job of throwing entry passes into the post and getting his big men involved in the offense, more generally. As mentioned above, he tends to look for his own shot out of the pick-and-roll, but he does show promise as a distributor in this capacity, as well, doing a particularly good job of finding open shooters on the perimeter.
On the defensive end, Payne shows solid lateral quickness and overall intensity, even if his instincts and fundamentals fall well short at this stage in his career. Nowhere in this clearer than his struggles guarding the pick-and-roll, as he tends to get lost if he cannot run over the screen and loses track of his man. This is mainly because he simply lacks the strength to fight through screens. That being said, he is a solid man defender and does a good job of staying in front of opposing guards off of the dribble. He has a nose for the ball, as well, doing a good job of using his length and timing to his advantage to interrupt passing lanes and strip opposing players, nabbing 1.9 steals per 40 minutes pace adjusted.
Though he is just a freshman, Payne came out of relative obscurity to emerge as one of the more intriguing point guard prospects outside of the BCS Conferences. To take the next step in his development as an NBA prospect, he must become a more efficient shooter and develop his shot selection, cut down on turnovers, and add some bulk to his skinny frame. Furthermore, he has few opportunities to prove himself against NBA-caliber athletes, making early season matchups against Xavier and Houston, which will make getting to postseason play all the more important. It is still early, but Payne has a nice foundation to build on moving forward and should have plenty of opportunities to distinguish himself as a prospect during his time at Murray State. If he continues to improve as a sophomore, then expect to his name to be much higher on this list at this time next year.
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