After an unspectacular freshman season which saw him on the court for barely 9 minutes a game, Adreian Payne took a big step forward in 2011-12 to become a major part of Michigan State's B1G title season. The 6-foot 10-inch 240-pound PF/C from Dayton, Ohio averaged 18 minutes while platooning with Derrick Nix to form one of the most effective "centers" in the conference. With Draymond Green and his 33 minutes a game at power forward now gone, coaches and fans are looking to Payne to take another step forward to help fill that void.
Payne arrived at Michigan State as the number 21 ranked player in the 2010 high school class. As soon as he announced his commitment (wearing an NBA hoodie along with his Spartan hat) speculation began about Payne as a one-and-done type player. At the very least it was hard to imagine him staying the full four years, but that is looking increasingly possible now. As he enters his junior year he is not to be found on most mock draft boards for 2013 or 2014. Nonetheless, his athleticism remains undeniable and if he can develop some basketball skills to go with it (as it appears he has been working on over the summer) he has a very high ceiling as a player.
In my piece on Payne last year, I noted that playing time would be the key for Payne. He started 36 of his 37 games, doubling his minutes, and the results were impressive. He opened with 10 points against North Carolina in the Carrier Classic and played pretty steadily the rest of the season, never playing more than 25 minutes or scoring more than 16 points. His best regular season game was a 6-6 15-point performance in Columbus against Ohio State, a team that always seems to bring out the best in him. He also had a strong performance in the NCAA tournament against LIU, scoring 16 points in 18 minutes. A more detailed look at his numbers and the keys for this year after the jump.
From a numbers perspective, Payne definitely got the hoped-for sophomore bump - and then some. His offensive rating went up almost 25% from 89.5 (worst among rotation players) to 111.4 (third best on the team). And he accomplished that while actually increasing his role in the offense, consuming 19.8% of the available offensive possessions while he was on the court. He finished with a much-improved shooting line of .567/.500/.697 (2pt%/3pt%/FT%), as compared to .479/.000/.486 his first year.
More importantly, perhaps, he was much improved on the defensive end. He blocked a lower percentage of shots, but that was more a reflection of how much more comfortable, and effective, he was in Izzo's defensive schemes. He didn't need to block all the shots if he knew his assignments and was in position to prevent or contest them. And, oh yeah, he was still first in the conference in block percentage at 6.92%. Here were his season numbers per 40 minutes of playing time.
Payne made dramatic improvements in 2-point shooting and free-throw shooting and cut down his turnovers without sacrificing rebounding, where he was top-15 in the conference in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages. It really is hard to overstate what an improvement Payne made from his freshman to sophomore years.
- Playing time/role - Payne projects as a 4 at the next level, where most of the available minutes are to be had, and Nix is strictly a 5. If Payne is going to improve on last year he's going to have to play the 4 alongside Nix and not simply switch in and out for him. Izzo has indicated that he's going to get that chance and he's going to have to make the most of it.
- Skills development - If he's going to play the 4 and not simply clog the lane with Nix, Payne will need to improve in areas that have continued to be challenges for him: handling the ball, passing and shooting. He was somewhat of a black hole in the post again last year - the ball would go in and never come out again, as evidenced by his season total of 12 assists. He has been working on this part of his game.
- Motor/focus - Perhaps because of his on-court demeanor, Payne has somewhat unfairly been dinged for lacking focus and not playing with energy. In fact Izzo has singled him out as one of the hardest workers this past offseason. Another positive sign is that Payne is actually one of the better students on the team, winning the scholar-athlete award for the best cumulative GPA. He also made the Big Ten Academic All-Conference team, the only scholarship Spartan to do so. It will be a plus if he can bring that same focus to the gym.
- Health/physical issues - Payne survived an off-season car accident, without, apparently, suffering any serious injury. He has an issue with lower than normal lung capactiy that some feel gives him a hard limit for how long he can stay on the court. How he deals with that challenge will bear watching. He will also need to continue to add strength and size. He has the frame to do that and all indications are that he is succeeding, as he is up to 242 pounds and looking to hit 250.
If all systems are go, Payne and Nix, backed by Matt Costello and Alex Gauna, project to be one of the better front courts in the conference this season. To close, here's look at a signature Payne throwdown over Deshaun Thomas of Ohio State: