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GP2's improbable, stunning rise exactly what Warriors need

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Payton dunk

SAN FRANCISCO – It’s such an improbable two-week flight, rising from the waiver wire to claiming the 15th and final roster spot to being in the closing lineup of a tight game. It simply doesn’t happen. Not in the NBA.

Yet there is Gary Payton II, not only making that very trip with the Warriors but doing so with a smoothness that is utterly stunning.

Out of the league 16 days ago, hoping for a call, Payton is jumping at every opportunity to prove he belongs. He has played his way onto the floor and into the hearts of Dub Nation with performances that demand respect. Even adulation.

GP2 brought his best Wednesday night in a 114-92 victory over the Charlotte Hornets before a fully captivated sellout crowd at Chase Center.

“He dominated the game while he was out there and just changed everything with his defense, his activity,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He had three steals, but I think he had several more deflections that may have led to steals.

“He is just an electric athlete. It’s hard to stand out on an NBA floor, athletically, because all those guys are the world’s greatest athletes. And he jumps off the page.”

Payton practically scorched the floor during his 17 minutes, scoring 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, grabbing five rebounds, nabbing three steals and pitching in an assist. When he wasn’t disrupting Charlotte’s offense, he was inspiring his teammates at both ends of the court and also on the bench.

 

“It’s huge,” Jordan Poole said. “Being able to have him go out there and guard as many positions as he does and make the extra plays, the 50-50 balls, the winning plays, were a huge part to not only our win tonight but the last couple games.”

A 6-foot-2 bundle of kinetic energy, Payton had the same effect on the crowd, which gave him a standing ovation when he was subbed out with 2:23 remaining and the Warriors up 17. His impact, particularly on defense, was understood and appreciated.

“That’s what I’m here for,” Payton said. “Just to come in spark whatever we need to get our defense going.”

Local Warriors fans love nothing more than an underdog story. Goes back to their years in Oakland, the eternal underdog to San Francisco. Payton is perfectly cast. His dad, Hall of Famer Gary Payton, is an Oakland legend. GP2's professional odyssey has had more stops and starts than Bay Bridge traffic at rush hour.

“We wanted to acknowledge his effort and give the crowd a chance to applaud,” Kerr said. “I looked out and saw Draymond (Green) are the free-throw line giving him a standing ovation.”

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At age 28, he appears to have found a home. Kerr was asked if Payton, who in the early games played mostly spot minutes based on matchups, can expect regular minutes. He’s the energizer for a team that has won six of its first seven games.

“Things have fallen into place for him and for us,” Kerr said. “He’s more than earned his place on the team. He’s got to be out there more often. We’ve got to give him more of an opportunity to play.”

Re-signed by the Warriors on opening day, GP2 fills crucial needs. He’s a defensive pest, an unlikely lob threat and a shot of adrenaline. More minutes? Yes, for he has earned at least that much.