In 13 Minutes, Gary Payton II Gives Trail Blazers Exactly What They've Been Missing
Payton's season debut was brief, but it lived up to the hype.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Since training camp, the impact of Gary Payton II on the Trail Blazers has been a hypothetical, something to look forward to at a vague, constantly-shifting date in the future.
In 13 minutes and 27 seconds of Monday's 135-106 blowout win over the Pistons, it became very real, in all the ways they hoped when they signed him as a free agent in July.
The short leash was expected. Chauncey Billups has indicated for a while that he'd have Payton on a minutes restriction after returning from the core muscle surgery he underwent in July. Two shifts of about six and a half minutes each, spanning the end of one quarter and beginning of another in each half, was all they got. But it was all they needed to see what Payton will bring to this team.
Everything Payton has been advertised as was there. He knocked down an open corner three on his first shot attempt, threw a lob to Shaedon Sharpe for his nightly highlight-reel dunk, hit the floor multiple times diving for loose balls leading to steals and scoring opportunities in transition, and stole an inbounds pass for a wide-open dunk.
"It sets the tone for your team and the unit that he's playing with," Billups said. "You see a guy doing those types of things, diving on the floor, getting a steal and kicking it out, and if you don't match that intensity, you look bad. It changes things."
Seeing him in action makes it make more sense why Payton took a longer-than-expected route to a return. He's a player without an "off" switch. He's all effort and chaos and movement. This isn't a player that can be nearly as effective at 75 or 80 percent of the guy he was in Golden State. It's all or nothing with him. If it took a little longer to get him back with the full confidence that he'll be as effective as he was Monday, it was a worthy tradeoff.
"It is what it is," Payton said of the mental hurdles that accompanied his physical rehab from the surgery. "This is probably my fourth or fifth surgery in the last five or six years. I've been in darker spots than this. Just had to take the time to get my body right. I'm at the point where it's the best it's going to be for this year, so I'll just thug it out."
Having Payton to stick on the other team's best scorer should also free up Jerami Grant and Josh Hart and take that responsibility off their plates. And Payton is nearly as much of a transition threat as Hart.
"Defensively, he's disruptive," Billups said. "You can just put him on somebody and have him deny them the whole time. Put him on a big guy or a small guy. He just does a lot of things that most teams don't have, with his versatility. Offensively, he's a really good passer. He knocks down those corner threes, but he's a top-flight screener. He really is. And he's a good secondary playmaker as well. He does a lot of things. He's like a jack of all trades, like a Swiss Army knife."
On Monday, you could see why the Blazers made Payton their top free-agent target. And why he was so excited to get back, finally.
"That's the frustration I was talking about," Payton said. "Getting back to hooping with my guys, I guess the smile just comes with that."
What We Saw
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