Fans received some hugely positive news on Thursday with a crucial injury update on Gary Payton II. The Golden State Warriors confirmed the 30-year-old would take part in Saturday’s practice with an eye towards a possible return against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.
Payton hasn’t played since being re-acquired by the franchise at last month’s trade deadline. Following offseason surgery, the defensive menace played in just 15 games during his brief stint with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Gary Payton II is nearing a return from injury in a big boost to the Golden State Warriors’ quest for back-to-back NBA championships.
Payton was a monumental part of Golden State’s championship run last season, even if his postseason was interrupted by a fractured elbow after a nasty foul from Dillon Brooks. He was one of the feel-good stories of the league in 2021-22, developing from the last player on the Warrior roster into a key contributor in Steve Kerr’s rotation.
Payton became widely renowned as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, constantly harassing opposition guards and wings while ranking first in the NBA for steals per 36 minutes.
Offensively, he became an expert cutter in the Golden State system, using his explosive athleticism to finish a remarkable 80.5% of his shots in the restricted area despite standing at just 6’2″. He also developed himself into a respectable three-point shooter, going at a 35.8% clip from deep including 40.3% from the corners. Although his offensive role was obviously limited, Payton did have shooting splits of 59/53/100 in his 15 games with the Trail Blazers.
But there’s one statistic that proves Payton’s impact to the Warriors and outlines what he can do for Golden State over the remainder of this season. Of five-man lineups to play at least 20 minutes together for the Warriors last season, Payton was involved in six of the top eight in net rating. So, in other words, Kerr’s best lineups almost always included Payton despite him being a bench player.
Payton was a fan favourite last season and there was genuine sadness and even anger when ownership weren’t willing to match his free agency offer from Portland. His return will be a special moment for the franchise and a boost of positivity in a Warrior season that desperately needs it.