Best. Available. Player.
Those three words are often synonymous with the NBA Draft, and this year's class was no different. As always, there were seemingly endless scenarios for the Atlanta Hawks to evaluate with the 15th overall selection, and draft boards everywhere varied wildly when taking a glance at their options. The very notion of "best available player" isn't always clear-cut in and of itself, but in the case of the selection of Michigan State's Adreian Payne, the Hawks followed that model, even in the face of some quality opportunities.
Players like Payne's teammate Gary Harris and former Kentucky swingman James Young were, somewhat surprisingly, still available when Atlanta (finally) came on the clock, and there was certainly a school of thought (including that of our own Patrick Laney) that either or both of those wing options would have exceeded Payne, especially in the category of "upside". Still, there were question marks with each, as Harris' stock torpedoed after concerns about his size and Young took a tumble after a car accident forced him to miss workouts, in addition to worries about his raw playing style.
With Payne, though, question marks don't readily present themselves. The 6-foot-10 big man was one of the best collegiate players in the country as a senior, and aside from "concerns" (insert laughter here) about the fact that he played four years at Michigan State, there is no defined weakness in his game. More than that, though, Adreian Payne seems to scream as a player who would fit perfectly in the Spurs-like system implemented by both Danny Ferry and Mike Budenholzer.
When asked about playing in Atlanta's system, Payne had this to say to a group of reporters at the draft in New York:
"It's definitely going to help, playing into my strengths, just being able to be team oriented and not just relying on one guy to go out and do everything as a team-oriented game. It's not just offense, it's definitely defense. At Michigan State, coaches always say defense wins championships."
Payne's strengths include shooting with range, as evidenced by his incredible 42.3% clip from the 3-point line last season, and an athleticism that allows him to be a versatile and effective defender with length. "I'm versatile. I can guard different positions. I can play inside and out; offensively and defensively," Payne said in his post-draft interview with assembled Atlanta media, and that versatility helps to make him the most NBA-ready player available when the Hawks sent their pick to the podium.
Does Adreian Payne have traditional "upside"? Maybe not, but the ceiling of star power can often be vastly overrated. Doing your best to assure solid production from the 15th pick is a more than acceptable strategy, and in addition to that, Payne's health concerns and status as a "late bloomer" with high-end athleticism provide more ceiling potential than the majority of pundits assign to him. More than that, though, Payne is the quintessential player from this year's class that profiles as a "Spurs-ian" selection.
"From Michigan State, we have a toughness, the players that leave there, and I'm going to just bring toughness, hard work, and I'm going to play hard every game and in practice."
Aside from the "from Michigan State" portion of Payne's quote above, his thoughts seem to reek of the business-like mindset of the Hawks, but on the positive side of that, his play can also fit that mold. In addition to being the "best shooting big man in the draft", according to ESPN's Chad Ford, Payne's ability to defend multiple positions is a huge plus, and because the forward position is unsettled behind Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll at the moment, we could even see lineups that include both Al Horford and Millsap alongside Payne while still being able to maintain floor coverage defensively.
Is there a real possibility that a player like James Young could become a better long-term asset than Adreian Payne? Absolutely, but when including scheme fit, versatility and defensive acumen from day one, it is incredibly easy to argue that Payne fits the mold of "best available player". It will be incredibly intriguing to see what Danny Ferry does with the remainder of the roster (especially in the case of Mike Scott, who could be on the outs after this selection), but if the Hawks elect to simply "bring the band back together" for next season, Adreian Payne will fit in beautifully from the first dribble.