Gary Payton II, son of Hall of Famer Gary Payton, has become a key role player for the Warriors.
Payton was initially cut by the Warriors but was brought back with the last roster spot.
Payton’s defense and savvy off-ball movement have helped the Warriors dominate.
One of the Golden State Warriors most impactful players is someone who barely made the roster.
Gary Payton II has emerged as a valuable reserve for the Warriors this season, an unexpected development when he was locked in a battle for the 15th and final roster spot in October.
The 28-year-old Payton, who is the son of Hall of Famer Gary Payton, has bounced around the NBA to this point, playing for five teams since 2016, including the Warriors. He appeared in 10 games last season with the Warriors, but primarily played in the G League.
During preseason, Payton competed with veteran guard Avery Bradley for the Warriors final roster spot. Warriors veterans Stephen Curry and Draymond Green had reportedly advocated for Bradley to make the roster, according to The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson.
While the Warriors eventually waived Bradley, Payton, and several others, they brought Payton back days later, a move Evan Webeck of The Mercury Times wrote may have been to create more financial flexibility.
The move has paid dividends.
After playing sparingly early in the season, Payton has earned more and more minutes as the season has gone on.
Over his last eight games, Payton is averaging 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals in 18 minutes per game.
The Warriors have blown out opponents with Payton on the floor. Over the last eight games, with Payton on the court the Warriors have outscored opponents by an average of 36 points per 100 possessions, an absurd number.
They boast an 87 defensive rating with Payton on the floor, a number 13 points better than the Warriors’ already-league-leading defense.
Indeed, like his father, defense has been Payton’s calling card. Whereas his father was nicknamed “The Glove” for his kleptomania, Payton has been dubbed “The Mitten.”
Payton has shown a knack for reaching around opponents and knocking the ball away. Those quick-handed steals fuel transition opportunities for the Warriors, who lead the NBA in fastbreak points per game.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr recently called Payton a “weapon” on defense.
Though Payton is technically a guard at 6-foot-3, on offense, he plays like some sort of wing-big man hybrid. The Warriors often use him as a screener, faux-screener, and lob-finisher.
That role is fitting for a Warriors guard. The Warriors offense relies on player and ball movement, including Stephen Curry, whose willingness to cut and screen off the ball opens up looks for other players.
While Payton cannot shoot very well — he’s hit just 5-of-14 three-point attempts this year — he keeps moving, bobbing and weaving and cutting into open space.
Warriors coaches and players alike have raved about Payton’s impact and the energy he brings off the bench. His defense, hustle, fastbreaks, and high-flying dunks have quickly made him a fan-favorite at Chase Center.
At 12-2, the Warriors have the best record in the league and are still awaiting the return of Klay Thompson.
In the meantime, Payton doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
“Things have fallen into place for him and for us,” Kerr told reporters earlier in November. “He’s more than earned his place on the team. He’s got to be out there more often. We’ve got to give him more of an opportunity to play.”
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