Over the years the Atlanta Hawks have had some good luck with Michigan State products. Whether Adreian Payne can make the impact that Kevin Willis or Steve Smith made remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, Smith has gone out of his way to help prepare Payne for his NBA transition.
"He's a guy that I'm close to," Payne said on draft night. "He gives me advice about what to do and what's the key to work on. I just try to continue to heed his advice and use it the best I can."
Smith is now an analyst for NBATV which is based in Atlanta and will have the opportunity to see Payne up close next season.
"He's right down the street, I get a chance to go watch him play," Smith said. "My kids they were excited, jumping up and down, ‘Adreian's in Atlanta'. That's special for us as a family to have a Spartan in Atlanta."
Before he was an analyst, Smith starred as a player with the Hawks from 1994-1999. Interestingly enough, the Hawks acquired him by trading Michigan State alum Kevin Willis to Miami for Smith and Grant Long. Smith was the model of consistency for the Hawks and peaked in 1998 when he made his only All-Star Game appearance. Smith eventually moved onto Portland and then San Antonio where current Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer was an assistant under Gregg Popovich.
Having a guy like Smith in your corner as rookie has to be a valuable thing for someone like Payne. The NBA goes out of its way to educate its rookies and the Hawks have good veteran leadership with players like Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver. Still it has to help to have a familiar face and one that you have known throughout your time in college.
One thing is for certain, Payne has some big shoes to fill if he wants to be the best Spartan to ever wear a Hawks uniform.