When it comes to the greatest point guards of all-time, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson and John Stockton obviously come to mind.
On September 8th, the Basketball Hall of Fame will induct yet another member of elite point guards: Gary Payton.
Throughout his 17-year career, the “Glove” suited up the Seattle Supersonics, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat.
Playing in an era dominated by the likes of Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and others, Payton often found himself a little forgotten about in the Pacific Northwest.
That is, until Shawn Kemp and him formed a Batman & Robin duo.
Taking the league by storm in the mid 90s, the Sonics were perennial contenders in the Western Conference. In 1995-96, the Payton-led Sonics actually made M.J and the Bulls sweat a bit in the NBA Finals.
After looking at his numbers, I was initially left a bit disappointed. Per the average PG, Payton was not a great three-point chucker (31%), his assist numbers didn’t jump off the charts (6.7 APG) and his FT% would not cut it in today’s game (72%).
How did Payton put food on the table?
Night in and night out, the former Oregon State Beaver was a game-changer on the defensive side of the ball. Payton had the unique ability to not only contain his matchup, but also clean up traffic in the passing lanes.
From Ages 22 to 37, the Glove played no less than 77 games a season. That’s a remarkable feat. Payton owes his durability to George Karl’s easy practice schedule. Rumor is, that’s why A.I. had that freakout in 2003.
Like many of my favorites, he was also in the class of NBA elite “chirpers.”
Because most of our readers were probably pretty young when the Glove menaced the rest of the league, I’m going to do my best to compare and contrast his style of play with some more timely names.
Steve Nash- Obviously, Nash is one of the best shooters in the history of the game. His shooting ability coupled with his play-making ability clearly were superior to that of Payton. Payton, on the other hand, played more minutes per game, gobbled up more boards and shut down the likes of Stockton, Kevin Johnson and Marc Jackson on a consistent basis. Nash hasn’t played a lick of defense since his soccer days in South Africa. Advantage: Payton
Jason Kidd- The correlation between the careers of Kidd and Payton is more similar than to Nash. During his early years, Kidd used his athleticism to run rampant from end to end. Throughout his time with the Dallas Mavericks (the first-time), Phoenix Suns and New Jersey Nets, Kidd essentially quarterbacked successful, up-tempo offenses. Whereas Payton struggled to find his niche in the twilight of his career, Kidd reinvented himself. To turn away Father Time, Kidd taught himself how to shoot and score on the block. Advantage: Kidd.
This is the one that kind of intrigues me.
Russell Westbrook- Payton was taken 2nd overall in the 1990 NBA Draft. Westbrook was taken 4th overall in the 2008 NBA Draft. At 6”4, 180 lbs, Payton had the ability to get to the bucket whenever he pleased. At 6”3 187 lbs, Westbrook is more or less doing the same. Their stat lines are eerily similar in almost all facet of the game. Check it.
While Westbrook plays second fiddle to Kevin Durant in OKC, Payton enjoyed the best years of his career with Kemp. Although similarly built, Westbrook hasn’t displayed the same grit on the defensive end.
Using our jumping to conclusions map, it would not be far off to say that Westbrook’s career will end up looking a lot like Payton’s when all is said and done. And I’d bet that Russ wouldn’t be too disappointed.
Thanks for reading,