This is the 16th in a daily look at the top prospects in the NBA Draft: Their strengths, their weaknesses, and whether or not they're a fit for the Celtics. Today's prospect: Elfrid Payton of Louisiana-Lafayette.
ELFRID PAYTON, Louisiana-Lafayette
6-foot-3, 190 pounds
HIS STORY: Elfrid Payton is the best American-born player in this draft that you’ve never heard of. The junior point guard led Louisiana-Lafayette to the NCAA Tournament and climbed draft boards in the process. Coming from a mid-major program, he’s had to battle to get attention throughout his career. His coming-out party wasn’t in college, but last summer on the USA U-19 team (alongside Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart and other future pros like Jahlil Okafor), where he was coached by Billy Donovan. Payton is a late bloomer; his inclusion on the U-19 team opened eyes. He came back to the Ragin Cajuns even more confident, putting up terrific numbers (19.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.3 steals per game) while being named Lefty Driesell Defensive Player of the Year.
HIS STRENGTHS: As you saw from his stat line, he’s a do-it-all point guard. On offense, he’s a terrific slasher who can explode past his man and to the rim. He shot an effective 53 percent on 2-point attempts. His ability to break down his defender forces a lot of help situations, providing opportunities to create for his teammates (he had a 32.3 percent assist rate, 46th in the nation per kenpom.com). For a guard, he’s a very good rebounder. Many people actually liken him to current Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo as someone who can impact the game in many ways. He’s a terrific athlete and defensively he’s tenacious on the ball.
HIS WEAKNESSES: Payton's jumper has to get better; he only shot 25.9 percent from 3-point range last year. And he only hit 60.9 percent of his free throws. He draws a lot of fouls (7 per game, 43rd in the nation), but that work goes unrewarded if you can’t convert from the line. Mentally, his game has to progress more. He averaged 3.6 turnovers a game, partially because he was always asked to create but also because he can make poor decisions with the ball. His understanding of the game and ability to make the smart play will improve with more reps against high-level competition in the NBA.
IS HE A FIT FOR THE CELTICS? Payton continues to develop both his body and his game. At only 20 years old, the potential upside has scouts excited that Payton could be the next Damian Lillard, someone who goes from a mid-major program to becoming an NBA star. Payton and Tyler Ennis are in a battle to be the third point guard taken behind Dante Exum and Marcus Smart. He may be available for the Celtics at No. 17. The problem is, they already have the better, more experienced version of Payton in Rondo. To draft and develop Payton, with so many other issues existing on the roster, would not be smart. As much as I love Payton’s game and think he’ll be a good player, the C’s have more dire needs that need to be addressed at the 17th pick.
COMING ON THURSDAY: Jerami Grant of Syracuse