Gary Payton II has fought to avoid his father’s shadow, and yet he has embraced it.
Payton took the long road to college prosperity, playing one year at a prep school and then two years of junior college ball before arriving at Oregon State, his father’s alma mater. Gary Payton was an All-American for the Beavers, a nine-time NBA All-Star, the 1995-96 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and a Naismith Hall of Famer.
Gary II just tried to establish his own identity, and he did at the most difficult place. Now he’s a potential NBA draft pick as a two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Once again, Payton will have to start from the beginning. He’ll turn 24 in December, which may scare off some teams, but the 6-foot-3-inch guard is an elite defender, like his father.
“It was easy,” Payton said when asked how he earned his own reputation. “I’m more athletic than him. I play the game different than him. I’m more of a slasher, so naturally I just got away from that. People are going to compare us automatically. So I just tell people we’re two different players, two different people, and we play in different ways.”
Payton is not the offensive player his father was. Gary Sr. averaged 25.7 points as a senior at Oregon State, before being the second overall pick in the 1990 NBA Draft by the Seattle SuperSonics. Gary II averaged 16 points, a whopping 7.8 rebounds, and 5 assists in leading the Beavers to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1990.
The younger Payton is more comparable to Russell Westbrook, an athletic defender who scores off his defense. There also could be comparisons to the Celtics’ Avery Bradley, who came into the league as a top-notch defender but offensively challenged.
“I can just get my team going defensively, get a steal, an easy fast-break dunk, and just motivating my team on the defensive side,” Gary II said. “Sometimes you can’t learn defense. You have to anticipate and have a knack and something you just take pride in. People who say [they want to play defense], you’ve got to back it up.”
Gary Sr. followed his son’s college career closely, often sitting courtside at games, chiding officials and offering his son advice. Their relationship has developed into a deep, respectful bond. Gary II has taken his father’s criticism the right way and also sought to trust his own instincts.
“I see a lot of familiar faces [during the draft process] and they tell me to go out there and be myself,” Gary II said. “I invite all of his criticism. I tried to tell him to shut up and he’ll just come right back at you, so I don’t even try that. I just let him say what he’s got to say and just take it. Most of the stuff he tells me is just being aggressive on the court at all times.”
Payton fully understands his place in the draft process. There will be comparisons to his father, judgments of his game, criticisms of his lack of perimeter shooting, and knocks on his age.
“It just brings pressure,” he said. “Ever since I was young it’s been pressure, but I try not to go out there and think about it. We’re two different players. I use it as motivation. I chose to go to Oregon State to take on the challenge and also to carve my own path. I think it went well.
“It could have went well or bad, and thank God it went well, we went to the tournament. His team was the last team to do it. So that was something special for me and the program, so I just took on the challenge.”
A LITTLE SEASONING
Staying in school is not a bad thing
Four-year college players are en vogue again, especially since players such as Draymond Green were bypassed in the first round primarily because of their age. Green has turned into a premier defender and All-Star player, and fellow Michigan State standout Denzel Valentine will likely see his stock rise because of Green’s success.
NBA teams used to penalize players because of their age, but because of the success of Green, Jimmy Butler, and C.J. McCollum, seasoned college players who can contribute immediately are coveted.
“I thank [Green] every day,” said Valentine, who is considered a combo guard. “He’s doing his thing. He’s definitely making it easier for me. He’s paving the way. He says that all the time. He worked and he was picked 35 and had to do it the hard way, and he’s paving the way for guys like me and guys that fit my mold.”
Valentine was a first-team All-American, the National Association of Basketball Coaches player of the year, and the Julius Erving player of the year (given to the nation’s top small forward).
When asked if he compares with Green, Valentine, who is listed at 6-5, said: “For sure. With the things that he brings to the table, the winning mentality, being versatile, the toughness, leadership role, the basketball IQ, doing a lot of different things on the court, I guess I can compare myself to him.”
Green left Michigan State after the 2011-12 season, the year before Valentine arrived, but the two have formed a strong friendship, with Green serving as a mentor.
“Draymond is a character, man,” Valentine said. “My sophomore and junior year, we pretty much spent the whole summer together working. He’s definitely taught me a lot of knowledge in the game.”
|Draymond Green||Denzel Valentine|
|Points per game||10.5||11.4|
|Minutes per game||25.0||29.0|
|Rebounds per game||7.6||5.9|
|Field goal percentage||.467||.442|
In an NBA that’s becoming position-less, there will be a high demand for players such as Valentine, who played as many as four positions for coach Tom Izzo at Michigan State. In a stellar senior season, Valentine averaged 19.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7.8 assists per game.
“That’s one thing I bring to the table is versatility,” Valentine said. “With the way the game is going right now, you need guys like that. If you want me to play 1 through 3 or guard 1 through 3, I have the capability to do that, and I feel like that’s the mode of the game right now.”
Some mock drafts have the Celtics taking Valentine with the 16th overall pick. It would make for a crowded backcourt, but they would need a dependable backup for Jae Crowder if Evan Turner leaves in free agency.
“I would love to play over in Boston,” Valentine said. “There’s a lot of history over there. Coach [Brad] Stevens is a young coach. He recruited me at Butler, so he knows me and I know him well. I know R.J. Hunter and a couple of guys over there, so it would be cool playing in Boston. I think I can bring a couple of things, a winning mentality, leadership, bringing versatility to the table, guarding, rebounding.”
Valentine has considered Turner a role model, a guard who can fill various roles.
“Big guards that can do multiple things,” Valentine said. “Me and Evan Turner are about the same size, athletic ability. I kind of see myself as just a basketball player. [Turner] can get on the court and get things done, and I think he’s a winner. He’s won everywhere he has went in college and the pros.”
BOUNCE IN HIS STEP
Brown pleased with No. 1 pick
The Celtics did not win the draft lottery but came out better than they might have.
Despite having the third-most chances of landing the No. 1 pick, the Celtics’ best odds (26.48 percent) were to land the fifth pick, followed by a 22.56 percent chance of getting the fourth selection.
For the first time in the 26-year history of the weighted draft lottery, the picks went as projected, with the 76ers receiving the No. 1 pick.
Philadelphia desperately needs a point guard and floor leader, meaning Ben Simmons is its likely pick, unless the selection is traded. Also, Joel Embiid is expected to return after missing two years following foot surgeries. The 76ers may need to deal one of their big men — likely last year’s No. 3 pick, Jahlil Okafor — to make room for Embiid.
Coach Brett Brown obviously was ecstatic when the 76ers landed the top pick. His record is 47-199 in three seasons.
“Just the reality that we now control more of our own destiny,” Brown said. “With the multiple picks that we have along with our current players — some of our current players on our roster — like Joel and Dario [Saric], how can’t you be excited about the future of our organization? And I think the city has endured a lot over the past three seasons. So you just get a flood of memories when you hear that you have the first pick. That ties it all in, and I’m just very thrilled for our organization.”
The 76ers fired general manager Sam Hinkie, the man behind the methodical rebuild and apparent tanking, and replaced him with former Raptors and Suns GM Bryan Colangelo, and his father, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo, who will serve as an adviser.
Hinkie put together a roster of undrafted free agents, unprepared players thrown into starting roles, and aging veterans acquired just for the value of their contracts. What’s more, four of Philadelphia’s top seven scorers from this season are likely not in the organization’s long-term plans. The only negative from the lottery was that the Lakers finished second, meaning they hold on to their pick. If the Lakers had finished outside the top three, their pick would have gone to the 76ers.
The No. 1 pick, Embiid’s return, and ample salary cap space allow the 76ers to take a major step toward respectability, a step that is long overdue.
“What I could say is that I felt we were doing the right things all along the way, we were never skipping steps,” Brown said. “We put in good days. Our process was questioned at times, fair enough. But I feel like with what we were building around us, on the court and off the court, that we were doing the right things to give ourselves a chance for genuine longevity.”
Lakers’ Kupchak feeling positive
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak was his usual stoic self at the draft lottery, despite the organization’s fate being determined by Ping-Pong balls. Losing their first-round pick to the 76ers would have been a devastating blow, especially since Kupchak’s attempt to jump-start the Lakers by signing veterans Brandon Bass and Lou Williams, and acquiring Roy Hibbert, backfired.
Los Angeles now has the No. 2 pick and can move the selection for a veteran player — the Celtics may take the same route with No. 3 — or select Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram.
“Don’t I look excited? It’s nerve-racking,” Kupchak said. “For everybody up there, you don’t want to be there. But if you had a bad season or you made a good trade, you’re up there. But most of us had pretty bad seasons and it’s a nerve-racking process to be up there, and particularly the way our deal worked this year. It’s not like we were guaranteed a top-five pick. If we ended up outside of three, we got no pick. That means we get a pick next year, but I’m hopeful that we won’t have the same kind of season next year as this year.”
The Lakers actually have built a strong core of young players with Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, along with three selections from last season, including the maligned but gifted D’Angelo Russell.
“So from a year ago when we didn’t have much to hang our hat on, we’ve come out with five good players, a good core of young players to build around,” Kupchak said. “To me, that’s the beginning of a process. I think to get the No. 2 pick and we also have the 32d pick this year, that’s going to make this thing go a little quicker. But I mentioned earlier, we had prepared as we weren’t going to get the pick, so to get the pick and to have our cap flexibility for the summer, we think we’re in good shape.”
Just a day after telling reporters in Boston that he was still deciding, Boston native Abdul-Malik Abu pulled out of the draft and will return to North Carolina State. Abu, a burly power forward, was not expected to get drafted, but like many college prospects he wanted to test the process. The NCAA has ruled that players have until May 25 to withdraw from the draft and return to school to be eligible for the next season, leaving a handful of players with a difficult decision, including Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes, who had a poor showing at the draft combine. He worked out for the Celtics last Wednesday but would likely be a second-round pick if he stays in the draft. Hayes is likely headed back to Madison . . . While there have been reports that Providence point guard Kris Dunn wants to avoid the Celtics and Suns — who select third and fourth — in the draft, Dunn showed enthusiasm in an interview with the Globe. Dunn is the best pure point guard in the draft and there are those in his camp targeting the Timberwolves, who have the fifth overall pick. Minnesota still has Ricky Rubio but he has not proven consistent enough to lead the Wolves to the next level . . . Management in Orlando was privately relieved when coach Scott Skiles resigned as coach last week. Skiles had been miserable during his lone season with his former team, unhappy with the direction of the organization and the team’s younger core. Skiles had issues with point guard Elfrid Payton and scoring guard Victor Oladipo and wanted to trade some of the younger players for an established veteran. Tobias Harris — just months after signing a four-year, $64 million contract — was traded to the Pistons for Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings because he didn’t fit into Skiles’s system, a deal that was largely ineffective. The Magic have named Frank Vogel their next coach, hoping he can mold the younger players into a cohesive unit. Orlando has had a slew of lottery picks since the departure of Dwight Howard but it has not resulted in a playoff berth. This is a pivotal season for the Magic but general manager Rob Hennigan appears safe, having signed a contract extension last season.
King of the hill
LeBron James averaged 25.3 ppg in 2015-16, setting a record with his 12th straight season above the 25-point plateau. Here’s a look at the players who averaged 25 points or more for 10-plus straight years:
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.