Washington Wizards: Is Gary Payton II a star in the making?

Washington Wizards Gary Payton II (Photo by David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images)
Washington Wizards Gary Payton II (Photo by David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images) /

On a Washington Wizards team that is a defensive nightmare, Gary Payton II is emerging as one of the NBA’s best defenders.

Not even a minute into the Washington Wizards’ recent 111-101 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, Gary Payton II was already making an impact. Moments after converting a fastbreak opportunity into a smooth left-handed layup, Payton tipped a pass straight out of point guard Trae Young’s hands and slammed it home on the other end.

A couple of plays later, it was a behind the back baseline pass by Payton that led to an easy two points for the Wizards. Payton’s impressive night peaked with ferocious, foul-drawing jam midway through the first quarter that had the Wizards bench on their feet.

Son of Hall of Fame point guard Gary Payton, Payton II has been a huge help, particularly on the defensive end, for an injury-riddled Wizards team that currently holds the title of worst defensive rating in the NBA. The G-League call up has fought tooth and nail to stay on this Wizards squad since signing a two-way deal in late December. And he’s done more than earn his keep. He’s flourished.

As a player who has always had to prove his worth in order to stick for a franchise, Payton brings a gritty, focused approach to the defensive side for the Wizards, much like his father did. His knack for picking the pockets of opponents has certainly not gone unnoticed and has translated to impressive numbers on the stat sheet.

According to Basketball-Reference, Payton currently averages 1.8 steals per game despite barely playing over 22 minutes per contest. To put that in perspective, Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons leads the league in steals per game with 2.1 steals, but he plays over 35 minutes per game. Granted, Payton’s averages come from a smaller sample size (12 games). However, his steals are impressive, regardless.

But Payton does more than just pick pockets. According to Fred Katz of The Athletic, Payton is among the league leaders in another key defensive stat: deflections.

The toughness displayed by Payton II during his tenure as a Washington Wizard thus far has ultimately paid off. According to Chris Miller, the Wizards elected to guarantee his contract for the rest of the season.

As the season moves along, Payton’s progression as an NBA talent will be something to watch, as he has the potential to make a large and lasting impact as a member of the Washington Wizards. Will he do enough over the final few months of the season to earn himself a permanent NBA home in Washington or elsewhere?

Washington Wizards are getting plenty of that development they wanted. dark. Next