By Randy Renner
Over the next several days leading up to the NBA Draft on June 25th we'll profile some of the players thought to be possible targets of the Thunder.
Cameron Payne, Point Guard, Murray State
Word leaked out early about a possible deal in the works between the Thunder and Murray State point guard Cameron Payne. Sources had leaked information to some reporters that Payne had a promise from the Thunder that he would be taken with the 14th pick if he was still on the board.
Ever since those stories came out Payne's stock has seemed to rise and more and more teams drafting ahead of the Thunder brought Payne in for individual workouts. The Thunder did the same thing last weekend which kinda threw cold water on all those reports that the Thunder had already decided on Payne.
Many draft exports still expect the Thunder to take Payne, the only ones who don't are the ones predicting Payne will be gone before the Thunder pick at 14.
Whatever the case may be, it's clear the Thunder are interested in the sharp shooting point guard and for good reason.
Payne averaged 20.3 points on 44.9 percent shooting last season for Murray State while handing out 6.0 assists and grabbing 3.8 rebounds a game. He was named the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year. He's 6-2 and has a 6-7 wingspan which is outstanding for his height. He only weighs 185 pounds and is rather lanky, so he could use a few more pounds of muscle. He's left-handed which at times can cause problems for some defenders.
He has an outstanding basketball IQ and his shooting improved from his freshman to sophomore season and so did his passing.
That combination of shooting, scoring and the ability to get his teammates involved is perhaps what intrigues teams the most about Payne.
The Thunder (though we never REALLY know what Sam Presti is thinking) would probably love to add a point guard. Right now Russell Westbrook and D.J. Augustin are the only point guards on the roster and typically the Thunder like to carry three. Payne could eventually become Westbrook's backup and (God forbid) if Russ decides to move on after his current contract expires in 2017 Payne could be ready to step in.
On the downside, Payne is not a particularly explosive player. Scouts have said he's "not a high-flyer" and at times has had trouble finishing at the rim, hitting just 49 percent of his shots from there whether from the half-court offense or in transition. He turned the ball over 2.5 times a game last season, which isn't terrible but it's not great either. Those issues came up while he was playing in the OVC so they would likely be even more pronounced in the NBA.
He also tended to take shots too early in the shot clock, at times forcing them up even though he was defended. (Sounds a bit like Reggie Jackson or even Westbrook at times).
Payne's defense was up and down. His wingspan, big hands and athleticism certainly helped in the passing lanes where he averaged 2.1 steals per 40 minutes. He also has the ability to anticipate where opposing point guards are going to go with their passes and that helps create those steals too.
Down low though Payne struggled, he was often posted up because of his lack of physicality and during some games he didn't appear to be fully engaged on defense and had all kinds of trouble defending the pick-and-roll. That could be a huge red flag for the Thunder. They've gone round and round trying to get Jeremy Lamb to focus in on defense and that has seldom worked so they may be hesitant to bring in another long-armed guard who can be outstanding on offense while not paying much attention to the other end.
All that said, Payne is just 20 years old and he's been impressive for most every team he's worked out with. His leadership skills are through the roof and if the Thunder can get lucky this coming season and have Westbrook and Augustin healthy the whole time they can afford to bring Payne along slowly, allow him to develop more physically and work on his defense.
My guess is if Payne is still available when the Thunder draft at 14 they'll take him. Do they like him enough to move up to get him? Or are they confident someone else they like will still be there at 14?
We probably won't have the answers to those questions until draft night.