His father may have been called ‘The Glove,’ due to his defensive prowess in the NBA, but Gary Payton II has a nickname of his own.
Payton has carved out a reputation as a solid perimeter defender himself during his own basketball career, and he’s earned the nickname, ‘The Mitten.’ Growing up with a dad like his, he kind of knew that playing defense was going to be a requirement.
“That just comes natural,” Payton told Ridiculous Upside. “I guess that’s just in our blood, that all comes natural.”
It certainly seemed natural when Payton emerged as one of the top defensive players in the country during the two seasons he spent at Oregon State. In his first year with the Beavers during the 2014-15 season, he won the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award and was named to the All-Pac-12 Defensive Team.
Payton has had a little bit of an unorthodox path to professional basketball. He wasn’t too highly recruited out of high school, and he attended Salt Lake City Community College in Utah for a couple of years. He ended up playing very well there, being named as a second-team NJCAA All-American and leading his team to back to back region championships.
When Division 1 colleges came calling, he signed a letter of intent to play for his father’s alma mater. Despite being named to the All-Pac-12 First Team, All-Pac-12 Defensive Team, and winning the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award, he went undrafted in the 2016 NBA Draft.
He’s spent most of his professional career in the G League, having had stints with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Wisconsin Herd, South Bay Lakers, and Capital City Go-Gos. While it’s not the NBA, Payton has been impressed with the level of competition the G League has to offer.
“There’s great competition. It’s a lot of young guys, and some old guys who are trying to get back in the NBA, it’s a mixture of both,” Payton said. “Young guys who are trying to make their stand and prove to everybody that they should be in the NBA and get an opportunity to go to the NBA. It’s great competition, it’s the NBA, overseas, and then there’s the G League. Every year it’s getting better and better competition-wise.”
Throughout the past three years he’s spent in the G League, Payton has averaged 15.5 points per game on 48.2 percent shooting from the field, 6.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 2.3 steals. Splitting time with Rio Grande and Capital City last season, he put up 16.4 points per game on 46.9 percent shooting, 7.6 rebounds, 6.4 assists, and 3.0 steals.
He’s shown off the defensive ability that enabled him to win back to back Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Awards, and he’s displayed his ability to not only score when necessary but to act as a facilitator and create shots for his teammates as well.
Payton believes that playing in the G League has only helped him and made his game stronger.
“The G is tremendous, it helps develop you. It takes some time but it helps develop you,” Payton said. “I think every year, every time I go down to the G League, I add something new to my game. It helps put me in a position to go and get a contract. The G League has been phenomenal to me.”
Payton’s steady play in the G League has also stood out to NBA teams. Close to the end of the 2016-17 season, he was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks for the remainder of the year. The following preseason, his contract was converted to a two-way contract, but the Bucks ultimately cut him after a few months.
The Los Angeles Lakers then picked up him on a two-way deal, and he finished the remainder of the 2017-18 season shuffling between the Lakers and their affiliate in South Bay. Last season, appeared in training camp with the Portland Trail Blazers before a quick stint with the Washington Wizards.
Although he has yet to stick with an NBA team for the entire duration of the regular season, he’s confident in what he can bring should another team come calling.
“I can bring a lot. Defense, of course, active hands and communication,” Payton said. “I’ve been working on my leadership the last few years in the G League, and that’s helped. And just make open shots, I’ve been working on my shot lately. That’s one of my biggest weaknesses, my shot. I’ve worked on that, and hopefully, I get an opportunity to show teams that I can knock down the shot and guard players.”
Although it hasn’t always been an easy road for him, Payton is resolved to continue to grind, continue to work, and hopefully earn himself a regular NBA contract. With the path that he’s taken, he has some words of advice for any young player following a similar path, don’t quit.
“To quote the great Nipsey Hustle, ‘I just didn’t quit.’ I’ve been through every emotion as part of this game,” Payton said. “Pretty much every stage from prep school, junior college, NCAA, and I just didn’t quit. For everybody going through it, just keep going and keep fighting and keep trying.”