This offseason, the New Orleans Pelicans saw two departures from the teams starting five. Though DeMarcus Cousins’ exit has garnered a majority of the attention, the vacancy left at point guard by Rajon Rondo is equally as heavy of a blow. However, with the addition of Elfrid Payton, the Pelicans backcourt may not see too big of a drop-off from last season. With this, it could lead to a career year for the 24-year-old.
When the New Orleans Pelicans inked Elfrid Payton to a one-year, $2.7 million deal, fans knew what the team was getting – a young/ energetic point guard with very good court vision and a tenacity to attack the basket. Sound familiar anyone?
Last season, NOLA’s starting point guard was 12-year veteran Rajon Rondo. For his career, Rondo’s bread and butter has been feeding his teammates the rock and driving hard to the hole. The 32-year-old saw quite a productive season with the Pels, averaging 8.3 PPG, 8.2 APG, 4.0 RPG and 1.1 SPG in 26.2 MPG.
In an era where a strong perimeter game reigns supreme, New Orleans bypassed this truth with a jump shot-less point guard (31% shooting from beyond the arc) running the floor and, in the end, saw their most successful season in franchise history.
Unfortunately for the Pelicans, Rondo will not be returning to New Orleans next season. He will be donning the purple and gold for the Los Angeles Lakers. However, even with this unfortunate departure by one of NOLA’s key contributors last season, they’ve done a fine job (on paper) of finding a replacement in the form of 24-year-old Payton.
As previously alluded to, Payton’s game is very similar to Rondo’s. Both of them shy away from long range shooting and prefer to attack the rim for either a strong finish or a drive-and-kick. Both love to create scoring opportunities for their teammates. And, both are feisty and relentless on the defensive side of the ball.
Though the Pelicans offense revolves around Anthony Davis and floor-spacing, it also caters to the guard position, specifically the point guard. Alvin Gentry preaches speed and pace. When looking at a few of Gentry’s previous occupations (2009’s Phoenix Suns head coach, 2014’s Los Angeles Clippers Associate head coach and 2015’s Golden State Warriors Associate head coach) two things should come to mind in regard to the teams; fast paced offenses and sensational point guard production.
An offense where a team’s main ball handler can push the floor makes for a happy point guard. This style of play could certainly aid in the progression of the four-year veteran’s game. For the majority of his career, Payton has been a member of the Orlando Magic. The pace of play for Orlando over the last couple of seasons has been pedestrian at best. With this, Payton did in fact manage to put up solid statistical numbers, but never seemed to blow anyone away with his game. A point guard with the attributions and athleticism of Payton can thrive in an uptempo system.
Once the point guard was shipped to the Phoenix Suns in early February, he proved he has the ability to thrive in a faster pace. In his debut with the team, Payton put up 19 points, nine assists and six boards. The next game, he scored a career high 29 points to go along with five assists and eight rebounds. After that, he put up a triple-double with 13 points, 11 boards and 12 dimes.
The Suns’ offense ranked second in the entire league in pace-of-play (102.78). Payton thrived in this fast tempo and, if he managed to do this with a team void of significant talent, aside from Devin Booker, there should be little doubt he’ll have an easy time putting up similar numbers while running alongside guys like Anthony Davis (top-three player in the league), Jrue Holiday (coming off a career high 19 PPG), Julius Randle (16.1 PPG in 2017-18) and Nikola Mirotic (6-10 power forward who shoots 36% from three for his career).
Elfird Payton’s still trying to make a name for himself in the NBA. There is still reason to believe he can be a great player. After all, he was the 10th-overall pick back in the 2014 NBA draft. Through his career thus far he has shown he is capable of putting up solid numbers on bad teams. Now, he has the opportunity to show his worth on last years sixth seed out West.
In a system that has shown to cater to athletic point guards who love to drive and dish, Elfrid Payton very well could see a career year playing with the Pelicans in 2018-19. Payton presumably will be thrown into the starting lineup of a team with hopes of continued progression and playoff success. Now, it’s up to Payton to show his worth. If he can recapture that stellar play he showcased in the uptempo Suns system at the end of last season, his stock should rise considerably with the Pelicans.
Do NOT be surprised if you see Elfrid Payton have a career year in his home state of Louisiana during the 2018-19 campaign.