NBC Sports

Payton II fits Warriors' need for defense-first guard

NBC Sports
LeBron James, Gary Payton II

SAN FRANCISCO -- One look at the roster as it stands Monday afternoon reveals the Warriors are without an essential element to compete at the highest level of the NBA.

No one in their backcourt is fixated on defense.

That’s why the decision Sunday to waive Avery Bradley and Gary Payton II was surprising and a bit puzzling. They specialize in defense. They were popular among Golden State teammates. Though the roster logjam ensured one would go, roster construction indicated the other would stay.

After Bradley signed with the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, that leaves Payton. And, according to a league source, the Warriors are very interested in bringing him back.

It’s the right move if they do.

It can’t be stressed enough that the NBA, particularly the Western Conference, has a plethora of standard-size point guards capable of breaking down defenses. In the West alone, the Warriors will face De’Aaron Fox, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Donovan Mitchell, Ja Morant, Chris Paul and D’Angelo Russell.

Stephen Curry and Jordan Poole, Golden State’s projected opening-night starting guards, are fabulous scorers, but each has a defense-second mentality. Each can defend on the ball, but it’s never going to be their first priority, nor should it be.

Somebody has to do the dirty work, embrace the assignment in which the primary goal is to harass the opponent’s most dangerous backcourt scorer. Keep him from penetrating and disrupting the entire defense. 

 

That job last season went to Kelly Oubre Jr. and Kent Bazemore. Oubre is in Charlotte, a member of the Hornets. Bazemore is in Los Angeles, also with the Lakers.

That job used to belong to Klay Thompson, who accepted the challenge. He might, someday, be up to the task. But not now, not coming off two significant surgeries and 28 months of NBA inactivity.

It’s unfair to place that burden on Poole or anyone else on the roster. Andre Iguodala can do it spurts but not as a routine. Moses Moody might get there, but the job is too demanding -- and too important -- to ask it of a teenage rookie. Damion Lee will give all he has, but he’s a shooter first and that’s what he does best.

Which brings us back to Payton. With Bradley unavailable, he is the best option from which to choose. After arriving late last season, then going through Summer League and training camp, he’s familiar with the ways of the Warriors. His backcourt skills are a nice complement to Juan Toscano-Anderson’s frontcourt skills in that they are defensive attack dogs.

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Who else on the roster besides Draymond Green and Toscano-Anderson brings such on-court disposition?

That role might not be needed every night, but not having it at all is an exploitable weakness. The Warriors generally try to avoid those.

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