I am an Alabama fan. I have an actual degree from the University of Alabama. I am the 1%. Even more rare, I am a bigger Alabama basketball fan than football fan. Whereas a degree may indicate some degree of intelligence, the latter point indicates a mixture of naivete and false hope. At least it has prepared me to cheer for the Hawks.
Robert Horry is my second-favorite Alabama player of all-time (behind 80s point guard Terry Coner). He is likely to remain the only answer to my favorite trivia question for the foreseeable future: Who is the only player to start 4 consecutive SEC Championship games? Famously, he would go on to the NBA and win 7 championships as arguably the greatest role player in NBA history and certainly the most clutch:
Top 10 Clutch Playoff Plays:Robert Horry (via tedip2007)
Horry was a unique NBA player beyond his clutch moments. During the back-to-back titles with the Rockets, he was lifted up as the future profile for the power forward position. He never quite fulfilled that legacy, but the league did begin to chase after the next Robert Horry. Players like Lamar Odom, Rashard Lewis, and Jonathan Bender drew comparisons to Horry out of high school. While the power forward position has expanded to be something more than a back-to-the-basket post player, there still are not many who bring Horry's unique talents to the position: a developed post game and ability to hit from three while also defending three positions. Few players who possess those skills are found outside of the Hall of Fame. Horry was also a proficient passer and unselfish rebounder who had a sacrificial personality that complemented his basketball intelligence. Something of the unique combination resulted in him becoming Big Shot Bob.
Every team in the NBA wants a "3 and D" guy--or two. The "stretch 4" is a growing position on NBA benches. Robert Horry would have been able to provide both of those roles in a single player. We would have to call him a "stretch 4 and 3D with huge clutch hands" to capture his NBA role. If you remove the unprecedented clutch shots from Horry's resume, Michigan State senior forward Adreian Payne has demonstrated the skills and production to replicate both the "3 and D" and "stretch 4" roles in the NBA.
Payne is part of the first senior class under Tom Izzo not to make a Final Four. The memory of him gasping for air and struggling down the stretch of the Elite 8 loss to UConn is still burned in the minds of many who watched him play this past weekend. I have even read where Payne is a player viewed as having his stock drop during the tournament despite the 41 points he dropped against Delaware. The Blue Hens are not a powerhouse, but Payne displayed his diversity of talents in the Spartans first tournament game:
When you go 17/17 from the free throw line, the quality of the opponent is not all that significant. It is an impressive feat at any level, especially for a player with a muscular 6'9" frame. Payne flashes in the video a post game that has been refined and consistently improved in his four years of college. Most impressively he has taken a non-existent perimeter shot after two seasons and become lethal from distance in his senior season (44%). He does have a bobble that precedes his deep jumpers which will allow NBA defenders to close out on him quickly, but a good shooting coach should be able to get the ball higher and released more quickly. Even without a change his high release should still allow him to be an effective shooter. He does utilize an effective pump fake--one that Spartans fans wish had been executed more in taking the ball to the rim in his final game.
Unlike most bigger players who shoot well from outside, Payne is a good--not great--defender. He has a 7'0" wingspan, the physical strength to handle traditional post players, and enough lateral quickness to avoid being embarrassed on the perimeter. Depending upon the match-up, he will be able to provide average to good defense on NBA forwards and centers. His biggest disadvantage defensively is a slumping posture which makes his length less effective and affects his quickness in jumping off the floor.
Payne is not Robert Horry. Payne is a willing but limited passer, lacks vertical ability, and reacts slowly when relying on basketball instincts. Horry displayed all of those things in starting as a college freshman. Payne shares an almost identical frame as Horry along with underrated qualities of humility and humor that have particular value for great role players. Horry and Payne both displayed these gifts during their college careers. Payne's humility is most evident in Payne's relationship with Lacey Holsworth. If you watched the feature on his friendship with the 8-year-old battling cancer this past weekend, it is a reminder that much of college basketball is still worth celebrating.
Some scouts watched Payne struggle to breathe against UConn and questioned his toughness and conditioning. The criticism is understandable, but it does not take into account the cardiovascular challenge presented by his small lungs. If the power forward was projected as a starter in the NBA, his never playing more than 27 minutes per game would be a big problem for his draft status. If a team drafts him with the view of making him a role player with the ability to be a spot starter, Payne should not be limited by his lung capacity. The lung issue actually enhances his potential as a role player since he will not be left gasping on the court as often has occurred in college. Some of the film used to critique Payne, particularly on defense, is cut from moments where he was reasonably unable to maintain a high-level of play during a long period on the court.
If Payne is closer to being Robert Horry than John Wallace, he could have a long and meaningful career fulfilling multiple roles off the bench for a contending team. While I would struggle to see him being taken as high as #15 (or higher if Hawks are in lottery) in the 2014 NBA Draft, he clearly fits the Hawks need for players who can both shoot and defend. Would the Hawks entertain trading down in a deeper draft if they are not in love with what is available or maybe they like enough players that they trade down in hope of landing two players? It is not a likely scenario, but if the right deal comes along in a deeper draft than Payne would be an interesting option.
For fans wanting a player ready to contribute sooner rather than later, there is much to be excited about in getting a player like fellow former Spartan teammate Draymond Green in a larger body. While teams made the mistake of letting Green fall to the second round, there is no way that Payne should drop that far. If Payne does begin to drop, Danny Ferry would be wise to stay on the phone in hopes of moving up to get a player ready to play in the rotation as a rookie and play multiple roles off an NBA bench for many years to come.