SAN FRANCISCO – With each splendid performance, the spotlight on Warriors guard Gary Payton II grows bigger and brighter. Three weeks after he was out of the NBA, his profile is hurtling toward “Linsanity” territory.
Another stellar turn Monday night, when the Atlanta Hawks visit the Warriors at Chase Center, would get Payton even closer to such national acclaim.
Sometime during the first quarter, Payton will be summoned from the bench to enter the game with one primary purpose: Contain Hawks point guard Trae Young, an All-Star and the clear leader of the team that four months ago reached the Eastern Conference finals.
Coming off another strong performance -- 10 points, three rebounds, three assists, four steals, a team-best plus-27 over 20 minutes -- in a 120-107 win over the Rockets on Sunday, Payton’s focus already had shifted toward the Hawks and Young.
“Absolutely; I know who’s coming in here,” he said. “Stick to the game plan and try to take away things that Atlanta likes to do.”
Payton realizes that nearly all the things Atlanta likes to do revolve around Young, who is as crucial to their roster as Stephen Curry is to that of the Warriors. Young leads the Hawks in scoring (23.3 points per game, 18th in the NBA), assists (9.6 per game, second) and free-throw percentage (91.4, ninth).
The disparate paths of Payton and Young make this the kind of matchup GP2 relishes. Payton turns 29 next month, Young turned 23 in September. Payton went undrafted out of Oregon State and his road to NBA recognition took more than five years, while Young left Oklahoma after one season and was drafted No. 5 overall at age 19.
That’s where the pride factor can come in for GP2, particularly on defense. How much?
“Probably 90-95 percent,” Payton said. “One stop gets everyone going, gets everyone locked in, gets everyone excited to go down and get a bucket and come back and let’s get another one and get in a good run, it just trickles down from the top to the bottom.”
Payton realizes Young was a starter from Day 1 in the NBA, while he is a 15th man on Golden State’s roster and delighted to come off the bench, no matter how much playing time he gets.
“I just want to keep reiterating how big of a part he is of this team,” Jordan Poole said of Payton. “Being able to just go out there and hound defenders, especially in the second unit.”
Though Payton’s playing time has increased of late, with 20 minutes being his season-high, he’s not going to spend 35 minutes shadowing Young. But anytime GP2 is on the floor, his assignment will be obvious.
Though Ice Trae remains a fearless long-distance gunner, his 28.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc is by far the worst accuracy of his four-year career.
Young is eager to emerge from the slump. GP2 is just as eager to ensure at least one more “slump” night for the man who dictates the Hawks' fortunes.