Welcome to Part Three of the Timberwolves Player Review series: a look at the frustrating case of Adreian Payne.
Remember how while growing up, your parents would tell you that if you are a good person and work hard, good things will come?
We’ve been taught since we were little that success is supposed to come to that type of person. Honest, hard-working people are supposed to be able to achieve whatever they put their mind to, right?
By all accounts, that seems to be Adreian Payne. He is a good dude with an extremely heart-warming story from his time in college. (Seriously, at least skim that piece to refresh your memory. It is such a good story.) He works hard, he throws his body around for rebounds and loose balls, and he never complains.
Yet, despite all of that, Payne is not a good basketball player. It’s confounding. He played for four years under one of the best coaches at any level of basketball in Tom Izzo. He has the size and athleticism to compete in the NBA. When he sees playing time, though, he looks lost.
In his 52 appearances this season, Payne averaged just 2.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 9.3 minutes per game. He shot a brick-y 36.3 percent from the field and 28.1 percent from the three-point line. He also rarely put himself in an advantageous position on offense, whether it was cutting when his defender ignored him or getting good offensive rebounding position.
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We’re told that defense is mostly about effort and grit, but Payne couldn’t even use those characteristics because he was often out of position on that end as well. Rotations and weak-side defense are complex concepts for most young players, but as a four-year college player and heading into his second NBA season, Payne should have been better in those areas.
His minutes were yanked around a lot this season, so the fact that his per-minute stats didn’t improve over last year can partially be attributed to that. Payne had a clearly defined role last year, whereas this season he could go from playing 20 minutes one game to logging a DNP-Coach’s Decision the next. Not knowing if you’re going to play or how many minutes you’ll get if you do will mess with any player’s mental state, so that likely played a part in Payne’s performance this season.
Payne had his 2016-17 option picked up by the Timberwolves in October, meaning he’ll be on the team again next season unless he’s cut or traded. Payne is scheduled to make just over $2 million next season, so it is unlikely that the Wolves will try to get rid of him unless he’s thrown into a larger trade.
If the Wolves do get Tom Thibodeau as coach for next year, it will be interesting to see what he can do with Payne. Thibs has a similar coaching style to Izzo in that they both stress defense and are no-nonsense type of coaches. Izzo was able to make Payne a star at Michigan State; Thibodeau may be able to put Payne in a position to be a solid NBA bench player.
Wishful thinking? Sure. But for a guy as good as Adreian Payne, he deserves some success to head his way.