When I was expecting the Toronto Raptors to make another signing, I was anticipating some news about Dragan Bender, Kosta Koufos, or even Justin Holiday. However, with Bender signing with CSKA Moscow, and the other two not fitting the timeline of the team, I was taken aback by the news of a Cameron Payne signing. The 2015 lottery pick has a negative perception as one of the worst players in the league, thanks to some terrible IQ and delusion that he has showcased for the majority of his career.
But I do think Payne still can become a quality player in the league. Not a starter, but an adequate backup point guard off the bench. And, considering his small contract and likely minimal role, this is a low-risk signing the team is taking. 2019-2020 is likely Payne’s last chance in the league, and I think that if he is willing to transform his style, we can help him become the rotation player he is capable of becoming.
To start, I would like to phone in on the defining trait of Payne’s game; scoring. Since his days playing for Murray State, getting the ball in the hoop was essentially Cam’s feng shui. Averaging a highly efficient 20.2 PPG in his sophomore year, many pegged the Memphis native as a natural scorer who would be the steal of his draft class. Unfortunately, what was seen in him has not necessarily translated to the big leagues quite so well. Throughout the four seasons in the NBA, he has averaged 6.0 PPG on .397% shooting from the field, and .331% from deep.
Despite being a role player in the modern NBA, the majority of Payne’s shots are not only coming from inside the three-point line, but only .202% of them are assisted. This shows a lot of confidence that crosses over into the realm of arrogance, as he is one of the more inefficient players the league has to offer. Sporting a .482% career true shooting, a lot of his play from three also hurts his numbers, as he has possessed a tendency to chuck up deep pull-ups with the utmost assurance. As a matter of fact, these are so damaging, that if you were to look at the left-handed guards’ career catch and shooting it would be a respectable 34.8%, which would be higher if his 2019 time with the Bulls was not as rough as it was.
With that being said, I do think Cameron could provide positive scoring if he wasn’t stupidly trying to do too much, which is where a lot of his poor IQ stems from. While one could argue that he made 44.4% of his pull-ups in this most recent season, implying he should continue attempting such shots, that was only out of 27 shots and is the only season he was not abysmal at them. In 2018 he tossed up 13 more pull-ups than catches and shot 32.7% on said shots. As for two pointers, Payne has an affinity of using his speed and 6’3 frame to try and create scoring opportunities for himself all over the floor.
.419% of his shots come from the space between the three-point line and three feet away from the basket, only a forgettable average of .407% of those shots are made (a number elevated by shots within 10 feet), especially for the relative volume in which he takes them on. And while the .443% he has shot within three feet of the basket throughout his career is nothing short of a turn-off, Cameron Payne wants to be the number one option, I will commend him for the .588% he has made in his last two seasons. Regardless, it is evident Cameron Payne wants to be the number one scoring option. So much so, that 71.4% of his two-point attempts are what the NBA would classify as “(very) tight” in terms of how closely they are contested, and that 60% of them are results of 3+ dribbles.
Still, quite frankly, he can’t be that. His attempt at employing that playstyle, albeit in a smaller role, has proven to be very damaging to any team thanks to how ineffective and inefficient that ultimately is. Personally, considering how Payne has shown himself to be a competent shooter off the catch, and thanks to some promise of effectiveness when shooting closer to the basket rather than deep twos, I do feel as if Payne can offensively be an off-ball scoring threat. Your run of the mill floor spacer that can also serve as a cutter, and if he polishes his decision making, a respectable secondary ball handler.
In terms of playmaking, Payne is not necessarily someone who leaves you with much to write home about. A career PPP of 0.79 as a pick and roll handler is underwhelming although his 0.98 number this season does show some level of improvement. His ability to set up and accurately find teammates isn’t anything special nor anything bad, but his obsession with poorly executed isolation does not allow him to give us a better idea of how good he truly is. However, one thing I will credit him for is his protection of the ball. Though he has only averaged 16 minutes in his career, he has only averaged a single turnover per game, which is rather admirable. Even in 2018 when he was getting 23.3 minutes, he only coughed up 1.4 which shows desirable care.
Nevertheless, plays like this show that Cam can quickly read the floor and has the right instincts to make a good pass. While he could have easily taken this shot himself for a number of reasons (such as this being a shot easier than many he takes), he decides to pass it to a teammate that is more prepared to take and make the three against our very own, Toronto Raptors.
Or this pass here. Whereas a scoop layup would not be out of character by any means for Payne in this situation, he knows Robin Lopez is also driving down to the paint and is naturally going to be more likely to successfully make a shot at the rim (especially considering he is open to). So, he makes the proper decision by swinging the ball over to his teammate who, as expected, successfully makes the basket.
That aside, though, while Payne does have the tools to become respectable offensively, it is hard to determine if he will be able to put them together and truly accept to take on a lesser role. If he does, I do believe he can also be neutral, at least when it comes to defence. Teams allowing 2 more points per 100 possessions with Cam on the court versus off of it, the -0.8 multi-year D-PIPM he’s posted is far from flattering, but I feel as if much of this has to do with a lack of reliable energy at that end of the court. Listed as 6’3” and 190 lbs with a 6’7” or so wingspan, Payne has a defensive frame for a point guard that’s kind of hard to knock.
Throw in his quick feet, and you have the physical makings of a defensive player you would not mind having on your team. The problem is his low IQ bleeds onto this end of the court too, as does a lack of effort. Unfortunately, there is a limited amount of footage in this aspect of his game for me to dissect. Due to his lack of interest he often slips up, but he has shown that he is capable of being more than he currently is. Just look at this play below, where Payne does everything right. He gets switched onto a bigger player in Nicolas Batum and tries to play as big and physical as possible without fouling. Tenacious and energetic nature leads to him forcing a turnover.
Or on this play here, where he is defending in transition. Noticeably ensuring that he is aware of where the ball handler is, he is controlled enough with his feet (notice how quick he is going too) to stop himself in time so he can contest the shot. To contest all he does is put his hand out knowing he can clearly strip the ball away, opposed to wildly flailing at it or doing nothing at all like many players (including himself at times) would feel compelled to do.
If Payne were to continue using his physical traits to play consistently committed defence, then I’m sure he can be definitely superior to his current status as a sureshot liability, even if he’s just someone a team can hide in their defensive scheme.
The problem with all of this is that it’s all far much easier said than done. My suggestions for the “Campaign” to become a respectable role player in this league would essentially shake up his entire approach to the game, and it is hard for players to do that. My favourite example would be Carmelo Anthony, someone who could be a very impactful addition to any team if he wasn’t as stubborn as he is, clinging onto the playstyle of his prime as much as he does. With Cameron Payne likely being a third-string point guard at best this season (maybe second in some wild and unlikely scenario), I am questioning how willing he is to change.
He could easily follow the mold of NBA players who try to do way more than they should when they are given minutes in their quest to earn more. This is seemingly led by (what I believe are) the player’s assumption that (hopefully) going off as a scorer will leave a bigger impression than playing like a portable and effective player. Hopefully, Payne will be able to do this, and considering that the Raptors worked out with him earlier in June they clearly see something beyond his impressive Summer League and G-League performances.