Profiling Potential Pacers Picks: Cameron Payne


The lottery is over. The ping pong balls have spoken. In a few weeks, the Indiana Pacers will select somebody with the 11th pick of the 2015 NBA Draft and hope that that person will become the next great player in team history.

The 2014-15 season was one to forget, both for the Pacers and their fans.

After nearly making the Finals in two consecutive seasons, injuries and bad luck derailed the Pacers’ title hopes. An optimist might look at the misfortune and decide that Indiana is close, and a few minor tweaks could put them over the top.

A pessimist might … well, let’s just look at the upcoming draft.

What the Pacers Need

Even if Paul George returns to his previous level of play, legitimate questions surround every other wing on the roster. Can C.J. Miles learn to play defense? Did Rodney Stuckey really figure out his jump shot? Is Solomon Hill a real NBA basketball player? Will Damo Rudez ever find minutes on the wing, or is he just a stretch four?

The back court is even more fluid. While George Hill played at an All-Star level in 2015 when healthy, many still wonder whether he would be better slotted at the shooting guard position on a regular basis. C.J. Watson is most likely on his way out of Indiana, and even the lovable-but-limited Donald Sloan is a free agent this summer.

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Then, of course, there’s the front court, which appears to be in shambles.

Roy Hibbert may or may not be on his way out of town, but regardless, it appears that his future role with the team will change dramatically. David West figured out how to remain a productive player through guile and intelligence in 2015, but he’s nowhere close to the guy that almost singlehandedly won playoff series in previous postseasons.

Luis Scola actually had a tremendous year in 2015, but at 35, he’s not a player that the Pacers, or anyone for that matter, would consider building around. Ian Mahinmi and Lavoy Allen both bring specific skills to the roster, but are just as limited in other ways and seem to be lifelong NBA backups.

The 11th Pick

Of course the Pacers would love to get their hands on Karl Anthony-Towns, Jahlil Okafor, or De’Angelo Russell, but those names will be long gone by the time the Pacers are on the clock. Therefore, for the next few weeks, we will be focusing on some realistic names that might be available when Indiana is ready to draft.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, many great players have been taken with the eleventh overall pick in NBA Draft history.

Just two years ago, Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams was picked in that slot by the Philadelphia 76ers. In 2011, a guy named Klay Thompson was taken right after Paul George. And JJ Redick, Alan Houston, and Robert Horry all turned themselves into nice NBA starters as well.

But Pacers fans might fondly remember the greatest 11th pick of all time: Reggie Miller.

There will obviously be plenty of options for the team, and unless they mess up badly, they should be able to find a rotation-quality player — and hopefully much more. We started off by looking at Jerian Grant, a point guard from Notre Dame with an NBA pedigree. It’s only natural to turn our focus to a peer of his, the player that Indiana is most likely to take over him should they desire to shore up the backcourt.

Cameron Payne

When Candace Buckner broke the news that the Pacers were trying out a little-known point guard from Murray State, Pacers twitter seemed, for once, to be unified around one idea: “Who even is this kid?”

Quick, speculative and stereotypical comparisons were made, most notably from people hoping that Payne would be another mid-major wonder like Damian Lillard and Elfrid Payton. The reality was, though, that very few people knew enough about Cameron Payne to even opine about him. That has quickly changed as Payne’s stock has skyrocketed up the Big Boards. Just two years ago, the point guard was coming off of the bench for his AAU Team. Now, he’s a potential lottery pick that Larry Bird and other seem to really like.


Cameron Payne just might possess the perfect combination of scoring and play-making that current NBA teams are looking for. One needs to look no further than Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, and Chris Paul (the league’s top three point guards) to realize that the position has greatly evolved since John Stockton was running around in his short shorts.

Gone are the days of point guards merely “setting the table” for their teammates. In today’s era of sophisticated defenses run by incredible athletes, it’s vital that point guards can create for others while also taking what is available to them. Spacing is a premium, and non-shooting point guards cut from the Rajon Rondo cloth just might be headed the way of the dodo bird.

Payne possesses perhaps the best handle in this year’s entire draft.

While he’s not quite on the Curry/Paul/Irving level, he’s not far from it. The lefty doesn’t necessarily swing the ball back and forth on a string like those guys, but rather, Payne uses crafty hesitations and amazing footwork to manipulate defenders. He is not James Harden. He’s not close. Do not misquote me. But he does handle the ball a little bit like The Beard.

Just watch his footwork here as he creatively uses a pick and roll.

Payne is probably the best pick-and-roll ball handler in the draft, another necessity for point guards in today’s NBA. Like Harden, Payne is good at reading his defender in order to zig when his defender zags.

Watch here as Payne plays both defenders like a fiddle in order to create a pocket pass opportunity.

This next move is just … Wow.

Payne’s handle lacks the fluidity of motion and visual appeal of Kyrie Irving, but its herky-jerky nature makes it nearly as effective. More than anything, he’s just an intelligent player on the ball.

In the above clip, he steps over with his left foot in order to take one jab step towards his off hand, before utilizing a quick dribble into a spin move that leaves his defender in the dust. Then, he calmly manipulates the help defender with a no-look pass for a huge dunk in the NIT Quarterfinals.

I like to describe point guards in one of three ways when evaluating their pick and roll habits: Creators, Finders, and Stoppers.

Stoppers tend hold onto the ball for too long, and rarely make the right play quickly enough to produce anything for their teams. Very few “stoppers” make it in the NBA unless they are lights-out shooters that can still make lemonade out of poorly run plays.

Most NBA point guards fall into the “finder” category. These players are quick to recognize the initial action of a pick and roll, and when a teammate is open, he usually gets the ball in a quick and efficient manner. George Hill would be a classic “finder.” Hill won’t make too many mistakes on the pick and roll, and he will exploit any errors made by the defense, usually by getting to the basket or finding a simple pass on the short side of the floor. Teams are happy to have “finders” running things, as they are predictable and make fewer mistakes with the ball. The very best finders, guys like Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook, are so gifted that when they find gaps in the defense, good things seem to always happen.

But “creators” are few and far between. These are your Chris Pauls and John Walls that create openings for teammates that simply aren’t there. Chris Paul uses his hesitation dribble and incredible body control to open up angles for lobs and cross-court passes that really weren’t open initially. John Wall creates corner-3s out of thin air.

Certain players like LeBron James and Stephen Curry fall into the “creator” category just because of certain elite skills they possess (the former being LeBron’s ability to hang in the air for 3 seconds before firing a 30-foot pass with one hand, the latter being Curry’s GOAT-level shooting), but few point guards are able to really create open look that shouldn’t be there.

The tale of the tape indicates that Cameron Payne just might fit into that “creator” category, and the stats back it up. Murray State handed over its entire offense to the sophomore this year. Payne had the second highest usage rate (32%) in the entire nation per, and the strategy paid off. Payne led the nation with 7.1 assists per-40 while also having an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 2-to-1.

Just watch the following clip.

The screen comes from the right block, but isn’t set firmly enough and it enables two SIUE defenders to hedge and double team Payne 30-feet from the floor. This is obviously not ideal, and this defensive play still gives Pacers fans “DJ Augustin vs. Miami” nightmares. Incredibly though, Payne keeps his cool, and makes a hard, hesitation back dribble before exploding down the sideline past the second defender and rounding into the lane.

Payne then makes a slick Euro-step around the help defender and finds himself with three great options — two open threes for teammates and a floater for himself. Payne slows down and winds up making the layup, but you could almost see the wheels in his head turning as he made the decision on the fly.

Many lottery point guards are able to use their superior athleticism and size at the college level to exploit pick and rolls and poor defensive matchups. Sometimes, this fails to translate to the next level where players are just as big and fast. Payne’s decisive and intelligent decision making on the pick and roll should translate quite nicely to the NBA.

Payne’s shot making is another strength.

While his form looks a little odd, that’s partly due to his being left-handed. Most importantly, he’s got great muscle memory on his jump shot, unlike, say, Rodney Stuckey or other guys whose form seem to fluctuate on a weekly basis. Payne made 2.5 triples a game as a sophomore and shot almost 40% from downtown as well.

Here, Payne isolates his defender and gets to his spot at the elbow where he rises and hits a nice little midrange jumper.

Payne has a little bit of Goran Dragic in his pick and roll game as well.

Watch as Payne takes the pick, and the beats the helper to his spot before quickly squaring and burying the triple.

Payne isn’t just a long-range shooter though.

He has a real knack for knocking down some in-between floaters over defenders at the basket as well. While he’s less apt to absorb and finish through contact at the rim, he has a few finesse moves in his arsenal that should come in handy at the next level.

Offensively, Payne should be a contributor from day one in the NBA. It’s possible that the contribution comes from more of a bench role, but it’s easy to envision Payne’s skill set thriving in the NBA for the next decade. Defensively…that’s another story.


Payne has all the tools to be an excellent defensive basketball player. He’s got good quickness and outstanding length (Payne sports a 6’7″ wingspan despite his 6’1″ frame), to go along with a 36-inch vertical jump. And yet, as good as Payne was offensively this year (Murray St. was #13 in efficiency last year according to Ken Pomeroy), he and his team was nearly as bad defensively (the Racers ranked #174).

Some scouts might slough this off and attribute it to poor focus on that end, or perhaps attribute it to his heavy offensive load. These same scouts would point to his high steal rate (2.1 steals per 40, good for 2nd among point guards in Draft Express’s Top 100) and predict that the problems will fade as Payne becomes more invested.

And yet, this very idea is based on the faulty premise that defense is a skill that can simply “be taught.” Many fans routinely fall into this trap. They bemoan the fact that Player X has never “learned” how to shoot. They might gripe that Player Y just “doesn’t work hard enough” defensively. But while one’s shooting stroke or defensive awareness might be more easily improved than speed and quickness, the fact remains that some people are just born with better defensive instincts than others.

Shaq never learned how to shoot free throws, despite obsessively working at improving. It’s possible that Payne is just a poor defender, notwithstanding his more than adequate physical gifts. This would be especially problematic in Frank Vogel’s backcourt. Vogel’s teams have always been defensively-minded. The entire system is predicated on its perimeter defenders playing intelligent, disciplined basketball. Payne lost focus too much as a college sophomore, and while he may have just been a victim of poor coaching, the issues were real and often detrimental.

Fit in Indiana

Payne’s fit in Indiana is awfully intriguing, and would be similar to what Jerian Grant would bring. With C.J. Watson’s eminent departure, and Rodney Stuckey’s future up in the air, the Pacers have some real holes to fill in the back court. Payne should be able to step in from day one as a capable backup point guard, and would probably even add some unique skills that Watson could never emulate.

Further, the combination of Payne with George Hill would make for an intriguing backcourt duo. Hill is just fine spotting up and spacing the floor as a shooting guard, and Payne’s passing would be a welcome addition to a roster that has lacked playmaking in that capacity for years (minus the one random Lance Stephenson blip).

There would be some problems on defense though. While Hill is versatile enough to guard most guards around the league, it’s unlikely that Payne would be able to guard shooting guards. Payne’s struggles on defense might be exacerbated in smaller lineups as well.

Why Larry Bird/Pacers fans will talk themselves into Cameron Payne

Payne’s offensive skills are impressive and enticing, and would give the Pacers their first true playmaking point guard since…umm…I guess Mark Jackson? Bird has been transparent about wanting to speed things up next year, and Payne would be just the sort of guy to run the show.

Why Larry Bird/Pacers fans will talk themselves out of Cameron Payne

The defensive issues are real, and we’ve seen Frank Vogel bench defensive liabilities before. Further, the Pacers probably need a lot more help in the front court than they do in the back.

What are your thoughts? Would you be happy with a Jerian Grant selection? Who would you rather have instead? Feel free to join the discussion in the comment section with your thoughts.

Next: The 5 Best Pacers Games of the Year

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