If you’re looking for reasons why the Golden State Warriors may return to their championship best next season, the impact of Gary Payton II may not even make the top handful.
Yet despite Payton’s presence as a role player in the Warrior rotation, there’s little doubt the 30-year-old will be a key asset to Steve Kerr in re-establishing the sort of Golden State-style that was missing for large portions of 2022-23.
A healthier Gary Payton II will play a key role in the Golden State Warriors’ hopes of returning to the NBA mountaintop next season.
While the franchise re-acquired Payton in the hopes of a short-term upgrade, they would have been well aware that his prime impact was unlikely to be made last season. Injury issues saw him miss a fair chunk to start his time with the Portland Trail Blazers, and mismanagement almost sabotaged his move back to the Warriors at February’s trade deadline.
Once the trade went through and Payton eventually made his way back onto the floor, he joined a guard-heavy rotation where elements often overlapped. Although their specific skill sets vary, there’s no doubt that Payton was brought back to fill the void that was inevitably going to be left by Donte DiVincenzo.
By February it was evident the 26-year-old’s form was going to price him out of the Warriors’ price range, with DiVincenzo leaving for the New York Knicks on a four-year, $50 million deal earlier this month. That leaves further responsibility on the likes of Payton and third-year wing Moses Moody.
Payton may not have been as impactful as he was in Golden State’s championship run the year prior, but he was certainly productive enough last season to suggest his fit with the franchise is still a match made in heaven.
Kerr saw the value in the 6’2″ guard late in the postseason, with Payton having been one of his team’s best in the series-defining Game 4 against the Los Angeles Lakers. He started in the final two games, including a 13-point outing in Game 5 where he was +25 in 27 minutes.
‘Young Glove’ gives the Warriors the devastating point-of-attack defender they desperately missed during last regular season. Golden State were a run-of-the-mill 14th in defensive rating — even Payton’s 15-20 minutes per game should help lift that back into the top 10.
On offense, Payton brings the perfect blend of off-ball activity even if his perimeter jumpshot still lacks the respect of rival teams. Kerr used him as a pick-and-roll partner for Stephen Curry at times against the Lakers, a ploy that worked effectively given his athleticism to finish at the rim and capacity to find open shooters. His own ability to cut from the weak side or finish from the dunkers spot works perfectly in the Warrior system, and his three-point shooting (50% last season) is good enough to take advantage of the space he’s provided.
Payton may enter next season as the seventh, eighth or even ninth-man in the Warrior rotation, but his presence shouldn’t be overstated as the franchise looks to bounce back from disappointment. Rediscovering their defensive identity will be key to that, and a healthy Payton is an integral piece to making that happen.