If Tom Izzo would be asked by an NBA scout to put together a junior tape about Adreian Payne he would certainly have plenty of footage to choose from. In his third season in East Lansing Payne is finally starting to realize his enormous potential which earned him so many accolades in high school and gave his college career such immense promise. He is averaging career highs in every statistical category and more importantly he is showing why many considered him a pro prospect straight out of high school. But just as he is becoming a major part of hopefully another Spartans title run, people begin to wonder how long they will be able to cheer Payne's athletic prowess in a Spartan uniform.
For a player who has a chance to play in the best basketball league in the world it is always a critical decision when he is going to enter his name in the NBA Draft. Payne will face that decision at the end of the season but even with his recent play, there should be only one way for him to go. Or better said to stay.
On the surface Payne owns a package that naturally entices NBA scouts and front offices. He has good size (6-10, 240 lbs), very good athletisism even by pro standards and possesses a skillset that could make him a multidimensioanl big. AP has always been a long, lean athlete who had no problem to play above the rim on both sides of the court. It made him a strong shot blocker and highlight reel dunker even in his early years under Tom Izzo. What has changed this season is that he has gained some muscle, worked on his condition and is finally a consistent threat on offense. His jumper has always been solid but now it has become a strength with Payne's range going well out to college three point range. Defensively he holds his ground even against stronger opponents and with his long arms he is more than capable of challenging shots on a consistent basis. He has shown tremendous feet on defense, often even drawing the assignment of defending wings on the perimeter like Deshaun Thomas from Ohio State.
But even with tremendous leaps in performance and production, Payne still has ways to go as a basketball player. He is only averaging 22.6 minutes per game (partly due to a small lung capacity) and he follows up dominant performances like the one against Indiana (18 points, 9 rebounds) with subpar efforts that leave a lot to be desired like against Illinois (8 points, 6 rebounds). A huge step in the right direction is that even when he is having a fairly quiet scoring game like against the Illini, he is able to stay on the floor and help his team in other ways. Which should not excuse the fact that a future pro player should dominate inside against teams who sport small and unspectacular frontcourts. Payne doesn't do that often enough.
As much as you have to like his skillset from a pro perspective, the Ohio native is still raw when it comes to numerous fundamentals for a big man. He struggles to set consistent screens, establish post position against smaller defenders or score with his back to the basket. As of right now he is not really asked to play in the post due to teammate Derrick Nix taking up the space inside. While Payne has the ability to rebound the ball very well due to his freakish athletisism he can still work on boxing out and getting better position. It is a must when he expects to snag boards and also score against athletic 7 footers in the pros. Payne has logged a bunch of dominant performances but he mostly has struggled against true NBA size and strength (4 points vs Kansas, 4 points vs Miami FL, 4 points against Louisville in last year's NCAA tournament).
Sounds a bit critical huh? No, not at all, it is just meant to put things in perspective. As mentioned earlier, Payne is a legitimate NBA prospect and he will get a chance in the pros but he should spend another year in East Lansing to not only hone his skills but also solidify himself as a first round pick. The fact that the Spartans figure to have a National Championship caliber team next year (if all the underclassmen stay in school which they should) should play a role in his decision as should the departure of Derrick Nix. Next season Payne will be the number one option in the post and he will get the opportunity to be something he has never been throughout his college career - an offensive threat that will have the ball in his hands to score.
The positives of staying another year in college definitely outweigh the negatives for Payne. He can develop physically without really losing his upside which with him being a junior is limited anyways. He can enjoy another year in school and make a name for himself with propably All Big Ten production (yes, he has that potential as a senior) and make NBA teams realize that he is more of a ready player than a project. Something you couldn't say right now with him not even averaging 10 points and 7 boards. And the good thing is it seems that AP agrees. Asked about his NBA potential he answered: "I'm not even looking at that right now — people start looking at that, and they go down the drain. I just want to play better and better. I've got another year."
Damn right. And Tom Izzo will certainly be able to put together an even more impressive highlight tape for Adreian Payne when he stays his senior year...