Gary Payton II has long been known as a defensive stopper without much offensive game.
But the Oregon State alum has changed that perception this season, his second with the Golden State Warriors.
Payton had scored in double figures in eight straight games entering Thursday night’s game at New Orleans. He was averaging 13.6 points while shooting 47 of 78 (60.3%) in that stretch for the team sharing the NBA’s best record with the Phoenix Suns.
On the season, he’s averaging 7.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 0.8 assists with a plus-minus of 4.5 while playing 16.9 minutes in 36 games. A 30.2% 3-point shooter in two seasons, Payton is shooting 41.5% from deep this season, including at least one 3-pointer in nine of the last 11 games.
He also started the previous six games.
“Just with the system, I think it fits perfectly. Guys on this team demand attention and it lets me do what I do behind the ball,” Payton said after Wednesday’s 99-82 loss at Dallas in which he had 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting with a career-best 11 rebounds, three assists and two steals. “Everybody looks to make the easy, right play and I just try to make myself open and available for those guys in moments. Most of those are just under the basket and catch it and put it in. So I just try to help out as much as I can.”
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A two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year at Oregon State, Payton is with his sixth different NBA franchise since helping the Beavers to the NCAA tournament in 2016.
The 6-foot-3 guard has spent time with the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Wizards before joining the Warriors last season. He was also on training camp rosters with the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers.
Now 29 years old, Payton has known the disappointment of being released and looking for the next opportunity.
“When I get waived, I go back to wherever I am I just go back into the gym and don’t get discouraged and just try to be myself as much as I can,” he said early this season. “I try to show each team what I can bring offensively and defensively to that organization.”
Payton played about four minutes a game in 10 contests last season after getting called up from the Warriors’ NBA G League squad.
But he found himself a valuable role this season with the Warriors, who have been without all-star wing Klay Thompson the past two-plus seasons due to injury.
Payton made one of his first big impacts Nov. 3 in a 114-92 home win against Charlotte, a game in which Golden State managed just 21 points in the first quarter.
He had 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting with five rebounds, three steals, one assist and one block in 17 minutes.
“We needed a spark and Gary gave us that spark. They everything kind of opened up after that,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “His teammates love him, as they should. He brings so much energy and he brings everybody else’s energy up, too. He needs to play more, for sure.”
And Payton did.
He averaged nearly 27 minutes in that recent eight-game span, with a career-high 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting (4 of 7 on 3s) in the Dec. 23 113-104 home win against Memphis. He had eight combined steals in three games going into Thursday’s contest.
But Payton’s role could change soon, as Thompson is expected to return to the court Sunday at home against Cleveland.
“It’s part of the game. Like (Kerr) said, there’s just not enough minutes to go around. But when your number is called, be ready,” Payton said earlier this week. “Just bring good effort. Some of the guys’ minutes may go down. It’s going to go down. So just be supportive and when your number is called, be ready.”
Drew Eubanks, one of Payton’s teammates for one season in Corvallis, has played in the San Antonio Spurs’ organization at the NBA level since the 2018-19 season, his rookie year after three seasons with the Beavers.
This season, the 6-9 post is averaging 4.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 0.7 blocks in 12.3 minutes over 35 games.
Eubanks played in 54 games for the Spurs in the 2020-21 season, averaging 5.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.9 blocks in 14 minutes. He played in a combined 45 NBA games in his first two seasons. He’s shot 51.3% or better from the floor (including 64.2% in 22 games in 2019-20) in his four seasons in the league.
Eubanks had a three-game stretch in November in which he recorded a combined 44 points on 16-of-20 shooting with 19 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks. In that stretch, he was 4 of 5 from the floor and 10 of 13 on free throws for a career-high 18 points in a 136-117 home win against Sacramento.
Jesse Sowa can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @JesseSowaGT.