What is Adreian Payne’s ceiling with the Wolves?


This is Part One in a series breaking down ceilings and NBA comparisons for the Wolves young roster. This piece focuses on second-year big man Adreian Payne.

Adreian Payne was acquired by the Timberwolves after being drafted in the first round of the 2014 NBA draft by the Atlanta Hawks. While in Atlanta, Payne played in just three NBA games and was sent on assignment to the D-League on multiple occasions.

Once he arrived in Minnesota, Payne’s role changed immensely. As the Timberwolves were plagued by injury, opportunity was there for Payne, who started 22 of 29 games.

With the Timberwolves, Payne averaged 7.2 points and 5.4 rebounds and proved that he was worthy of being drafted 14th overall.

Payne is a very athletic power forward who has a solid shot from three point range. Although Payne uses his athleticism to block shots, he is not a particularly good defender, especially in the post. At age 24, Payne doesn’t have as much time for improvement as the typical second-year player. That being said, he still has plenty of room to grow.

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Ceiling comparison- Al Harrington

I chose Al Harrington as the ceiling comparison for Payne based on their similar skill-sets and ability level.

Both players play power forward, but neither are true power players as each of them spend a lot of time on the perimeter offensively. Both Harrington and Payne can be very effective players as they are able to score from all over the floor, but neither is the type of player to take over a game or be the featured player in an offense.

At times during his career, Harrington was one of the best shooting big men in the NBA. Harrington also used his athleticism to create opportunities for himself on offense.

At his best, Harrington averaged 20.1 points, 7 rebounds and shot 43% on three pointers. In Payne’s senior season at Michigan State, He averaged 16.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and shot 42% from three.

Nov 1, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards power forward Al Harrington (7) holds the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The first thing Payne needs to adjust to is the NBA three point line — the 42% he shot at the college line is great, but most of those shots are two-pointers in the NBA. In his rookie season, Payne shot only nine three-pointers and converted just one of those attempts. Harrington, on the other hand, thrived as an NBA three point shooter.

One thing that Payne does better than Harrington is shot-blocking. While at Michigan State, Payne averaged one block per game. Harrington never averaged more than .5 blocks in a single NBA season.

If Payne can extend his range to the NBA three-point line, play adequate defense, and continue to rebound at a solid rate, then he should be able to earn significant minutes for the Timberwolves. Once he has a place in the rotation, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see him put up stats similar to those of Harrington’s during his NBA career. And although Harrington never made an NBA All-Star roster, he had a successful career as a stretch power forward.

Considering the depth the Timberwolves have in the front court with Karl Anthony-Towns and Gorgui Dieng, the team would be very pleased if Payne developed into the quality of player that Harrington was in his prime. He may never be the best player on the team, but he can score the ball in a variety of ways, rebound at a decent rate, and unlike Harrington, protect the rim.

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