Player Profile: Elfrid Payton, Louisiana Lafayette
When Elfrid Payton was invited to tryout for the U-19 USA basketball team, even the most hardcore fans and knowledgeable pundits scrambled to learn more about this Louisiana Lafayette guard. His KenPom page statistics went through the roof. Features were written about him. He continued to surprise when he was named to the team and eventually became a starter for the eventual gold medal winners. The U-19 tournament gave us a chance to see what type of player Payton is and what his strengths are as he heads into his junior season as well as some areas of improvement as he grows as a player.
The first thing that jumps out at you when watching Payton is his exceptional passing ability, both to lead to scoring opportunities and to keep the offense flowing. Last season, he recorded a 33.6% assist rate, good for 51st in the nation. One of his weaknesses is taking defenders off the dribble but he makes up for it by setting up his teammates for scoring opportunities.
Against Canada, the USA was facing a zone most of the game and Payton was often at the top of the key on offense. He rarely looked to penetrate the space in the zone but did a great job of keeping the ball moving so that the other guards could attack with the zone moving. He did not hold the ball for long periods of time which would have allowed the zone to get back into shape and bog down the offense. Instead, he kep the ball moving from wing to wing, which allowed his more offensive minded teammates to find holes in the zone.
Payton is also proficient at finding teammates for easy looks at the rim or jump shots. His passes are perfectly placed to shooters to allow them to easily catch and release. He makes the passes right to the shooter’s pocket, so they do not have to waste time gathering a poor pass, allowing the defense to contest the shot. This is a critical skill for passers as it gives the shooters the extra time and space needed to get an uncontested shot.
In the U-19 tournament, Payton rarely looked to finish for himself but instead looked to get his teammates shots. This was never more prevalent than in transition. There were countless times that after a Payton steal or other fast break opportunity, Payton would drive all the way to the rim, draw the defense and lay the ball off for his trailing teammate. The other U-19 players were tremendous finishers, making it easy to pick up assists on the break. It will be interesting to see how this translates to his teammates at Louisiana Lafayette, as he may need to attack the rim more on fast breaks.
Payton finished the tournament with 21 steals in nine games, showcasing his length and athleticism. The USA defense pressed and trapped throughout the game, which led to plenty of steal opportunities. Payton was able to take advantage of these by using his length to get into passing lanes and deflect and steal plenty of passes. He also was able to use his wingspan to get some steals while guarding the ball in the half court.
Last season, he posted a 3.9% steal rate, showing his proficiency in this area was not just a small sample aberration. This attribute will be one of his biggest strengths as he enters his junior year and begins to get more attention from NBA scouts.
Areas of Improvement
On Ball Defense
While Payton can use his length to harass the ball handler, he showed a tendency to get beat off the dribble in the U-19 tournament. His initial lateral movement looked to be slow at points, which allowed the offensive player to drive by him and create chances for the defense. While he can sometimes uses his length to recover, this could be a problem as he plays against tougher competition. He will need to become quicker on his lateral slides to stay in front of his man off the dribble. If he can’t do this on a regular basis, he will become a liability on the defensive end, despite his ball-hawking prowess.
One other area he needs to work on is his aggressiveness off the dribble and at the rim. It’s possible that he was filling a specific role on this team as a distributor and has that skill in his arsenal, which he will show this upcoming collegiate season. In the U-19 tournament, he looked passive on offense and did not look to attack with the ball very often. He showed that he can finish at the rim and he needs to get himself more opportunities to do so.
Payton burst onto the national radar just by being invited to the U-19 tryouts and more than held his own against top competition in his age group. He will go back to the Sun Belt conference but he has put his name on NBA scouts radar and he could use this experience to lead a team that returns nearly everyone from last year’s team. He is a player you should be monitoring throughout this season to see how he uses this U-19 experience in the Sun Belt. It will be interesting to see how his role shifts, as he goes from being a supporting player to a star for Louisiana Lafayette. He has the body of a NBA player but he has some technical aspects of his game to improve if he wishes to be a serious draft candidate in a year or two. Don’t be surprised to see his name on draft boards in the upcoming months.