As the 2023-24 NBA season draws near, Blue Man Hoop will focus on one aspect of potential improvement for every Warrior player.
After an injury riddled year that saw him depart and then return to the Golden State Warriors, it’s easy to forget that Gary Payton II projects as someone who could provide a major difference to the franchise’s fortunes this season.
Payton’s value to the Warriors shouldn’t be understated, even if his time in Portland was truly forgettable. Although his season was plagued by an abdominal injury, he still became a starter for Golden State over the last three games of their second-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The 30-year-old’s defense is a true weapon for Steve Kerr to utilize, and there’s little doubt the team’s struggles on that end of the floor coincided with his departure in free agency last offseason.
But as it’s been for the entire of Payton’s career, the volume on which his defense can be employed is based on how effective he can be offensively. His capacity to fit into the Warriors’ offensive system is what’s allowed him to flourish and find his first real NBA home with Golden State.
Number of looks and finishing around the rim
After Payton was somewhat surprisingly given the last roster spot over Avery Bradley heading into the 2021-22 season, he found an offensive role as a smart cutter, excellent finisher at the rim, and occasional three-point shooter.
Those aspects still remained upon his return to the Warriors last season, albeit at a slightly lower rate than what we’d seen during the championship year. In 71 regular season games for Golden State in 2021-22, Payton attempted 198 shots from within five feet of the basket. That’s an average of nearly 2.8 per game, and he shot a ridiculously good 78.3% on those attempts.
Fast-forward to last season and Payton took a total of 37 shots from within five feet across his 22 regular season outings. That’s an average of just below 1.7 per game on which he shot 70.3% — still a very good percentage but a decline on what he’d done the year prior.
His three-point percentages were up last season, though his attempts dipped from 1.7 to 1.2 per game. The fact is that opposing defenses are probably never going to respect his perimeter jumpshot, making his looks around the basket the priority focus area here.
If Payton can rediscover that one extra easy look at the rim each game, then that threat makes him much more viable to be out there for 18-20+ minutes per game. It’s not all on him — the role requires opposing defenses to be laser-focused on Payton’s teammates and for them to be able to find him effectively — but getting to the right spots is critical and why he was so effective in 2021-22.