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Charlotte Hornets NBA Draft Preview: Cameron Payne

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Payne has many tools and intangibles that could make him a great player at the NBA level.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Introduction

Do the Charlotte Hornets need a point guard? That doesn't matter, not according to Rich Cho, who said recently the Hornets will draft the best player available rather than for need. So rather, the question is not whether the Hornets need Cameron Payne, but whether he represents the best player available for Charlotte to take, and that will depend on a lot.

But here's the thing about Payne -- he's one of the best point guards available in the 2015 NBA Draft, and that makes the prospect of taking him with the 9th pick all the more intriguing.

Payne wasn't drawing quite the excitement he is now back when he signed for Murray State University two years ago. While Murray State has become one of the stronger mid-major programs in the country in recent years, it still lacks the exposure and competition of one of the power conferences. That hasn't stopped scouts from seeing true pro potential in Payne, whose game appears suitable for the NBA. It's anyone's guess who the Hornets are looking to pick (all in favor of drafting Stanley Johnson as a practical joke raise your hand), but if the Hornets do indeed take Payne, he could bring intangibles and creativity to an offense that needs it.

Measurements and Statistics

Courtesy of Basketball Reference

Height w/o Shoes Height w/shoes Weight Wingspan Standing Reach Body Fat No Step Vert Max Vert
6' 0.75" 6' 1.5" 183 6' 7.25" 8' 1.5" 6.3 30.0 35.5

Minutes Points FG% 3PT% FT% Assists Steals
32.8 20.3 44.9 37.3 78.3 6.0 1.8


Strengths

Going purely by the numbers, the first thing that jumps out is Payne's scoring ability. Averaging 20 points a game in any league is impressive, and Payne did it shooting a pretty good percentage (44.9 percent), while also remaining efficient, with true shooting percentage of 57 percent. That number is even more remarkable considering that Payne had a usage rate of 32 percent. In other words, Murray State's offense ran through Payne, and he managed to score a ton of points while staying efficient.

Payne's scoring ability comes in spurts; he's the type of player that can get hot and score at will. His shot mechanics aren't fundamentally sound, but they can be tweaked. He has already developed a floater which he used often this past season, averaging three floaters per game according to Draft Express. Considering that point guards often enter the NBA without a floater (which for smaller guards, is essential) Payne already has that part of his development under him.

Scoring comes naturally to Payne, as does much of his offensive game. Along with being able to score the ball, Payne has great passing instincts and overall feel to the game. He pushes the ball ahead in transition, and can change speeds in the half court. Again, these are aspects many point guards entering the NBA haven't yet developed. Kemba Walker for example, often played at only one speed his first two seasons in the NBA, and it wasn't until Steve Clifford identified and showed this to Walker that significant change occurred. The fact that Payne has these aspects of his game already in place is encouraging.

Payne is also good in the pick and roll, and can be very creative as a passer. He knows how to draw defenses in and find the open man, even if its a bit unorthodox. All of these strengths, from his scoring to his play making ability, are largely why NBA teams are high on him.

Weaknesses

Where Payne's game is lacking is on the defensive end. The physical and athletic tools are there -- Payne has good length for a player of his size, and he has good lateral quickness -- but he lacks the defensive intensity needed at the NBA level. As Draft Express points out, Payne would be found standing straight up on defense or hunched over in a bad defensive position. He also lacks strength, which made it difficult when opposing guards would post him. While he's tall enough for the position at 6'2'', he weighs only 183 pounds, which won't help when he's defending bigger, stronger guards.

He's also not a good finisher at the rim, making just 49 percent of his attempts in the half court or at the rim, per Draft Express. He doesn't finish well in contact, and that could be an major issue when attacking the hoop against any NBA front court.

The good news is that his lack of size doesn't mean he won't be able to score at the NBA level. Smaller guards (Isaiah Thomas, Kemba Walker) have found success as scorers, and Payne is taller than both. He will have to get stronger, but that should come with time. If he can play at a higher level on defense, he could become a competent defender.

Fit with Hornets

Payne wouldn't replace Kemba Walker, but he could be a valuable back up. He has the scoring ability, and his passing instincts would help the Hornets offense in desperate need of creativity and imagination. His ability in the pick and roll could create scoring chances for Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller, and Noah Vonleh, along with Marvin Williams and (yes) Spencer Hawes in the pick-and-pop. If his instincts of pushing the ball ahead in transition translate, it could mean even more easy scoring chances for Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Gerald Henderson given they leak out.

One concern would be his usage rate. It was obvious he ran the offense in college, and given that playing a high usage player with Kemba Walker typically spells trouble for everyone on the court, the fit may not be ideal. On the other hand, Payne's high usage rate could have due to being the best player on the court most nights, which would make it crazy for him not to be the one with the ball in his hands the most. There's always the chance he wouldn't need to be such a high usage player at the NBA level, given who else is on the court.

Mock Drafts

Draft Express 14th
NBA Draft.net 9th
CBS Sports 14th
The Lottery Mafia 11th
ESPN's Chad Ford 14th

The majority of the mocks see him as the last lottery pick of the draft, though it is interesting that NBA Draft.net has him going to the Hornets. One thing is clear though -- whether the Hornets keep the 9th pick or trade down, Payne will likely be there, at least according to the mocks. He might be a reach with the 9th pick, but at picks 12-14? Not so much. If the Hornets are high on him, but would rather take him 14th than 9th, a trade scenario should be something to keep an eye on.

One thing to pay attention to is how a recent hand fracture will affect his stock. It shouldn't require surgery, but depending on the time table for recovery, it could affect his status in the Summer League.

Nonetheless, Payne is an intriguing prospect, and one the Hornets could find very useful next season and in the future should they take a chance on him.