Cameron Payne looked like one of the worst players in the NBA just a few years ago, destined to be a first-round flop after going 14th in the 2015 NBA Draft. Payne went from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Chicago Bulls (check this out) to the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Toronto Raptors to China to the G League before landing with the Phoenix Suns right before the bubble in 2020.
Payne was a revelation as the Suns went 8-0 in the bubble, averaging 10.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting 48.5% from the field and 51.7% from 3-point range. It turned out that wasn’t a fluke, as the guard followed that up with 8.4 points per game on 48.4% shooting and 44.0% on 3-pointers to go along with 3.6 assists and 2.4 rebounds per contest in the 2020-21 regular season.
Now, Cameron Payne has become the best story of the 2021 NBA Playoffs as he continues to make huge contributions to a team that’s just two wins away from the NBA Finals. While his efficiency is a bit down, he’s averaging 11.8 points, 3.9 assists and 2.7 rebounds while shooting 44.0% overall and 35.4% from 3 in a bigger role thanks to Chris Paul’s health issues. Payne came up big against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round and has kept it going.
The 26-year-old point guard had his finest moment yet filling in for Paul in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Clippers, going for a team-high 29 points and nine assists without a single turnover in a thrilling 104-103 victory. Payne was huge all game and came up with a clutch bucket down the stretch on a beauty of a finish, one of many on Tuesday night. His play earned him an on-court interview after the game and a podium appearance with Devin Booker:
Cameron Payne had the ball in his hands for 9.7 minutes last night (Luka Doncic led the regular season at 8.9 minutes), and he had 24 drives with 19 points off those drives (SGA 25.2, Fox 13.3).
Cam Payne alpha SZN in the WCF. Unbelievable.
— Michael Gallagher (@MikeSGallagher) June 23, 2021
Last year Cameron Payne spent some time in the G League.
Last night @campayne had 29 PTS and 9 ASTS in a Conference Finals win and encouraged viewers to never give up.
— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) June 23, 2021
Payne has shown an ability to get into the paint and finish in crafty ways while also knocking down outside shots. Payne is no CP3 as a distributor, but he’s doing a nice job setting up teammates such as Deandre Ayton for easy baskets. He has loads of confidence and is doing everything the Suns could have ever hoped for in place of Paul, who’s eyeing a return for Game 3 after his positive COVID-19 test.
As an avid Bulls follower who derisively mocked Payne as the “Tank Commander” along with many other fans, it’s truly wild to see Payne turn his career around like this to become such an important postseason contributor. It’s a testament to his work ethic and persistence that he finds himself in this spot after so many low points in his NBA career, and it’s also an example of how fit matters and how we shouldn’t always be so quick to write off players. While Payne deserves a lion’s share of the credit, Suns coach Monty Williams, CP3 and others have helped his development as well.
Cameron Payne is set to be a free agent after this season, so he has earned himself a decent chunk of change. Not bad for a guy who used to be best known for being Russell Westbrook’s dance partner and who looked like he was going to be out of the NBA without a return in sight not long ago.
Just think if he’s able to help lead the Suns to their first-ever NBA title. What a story that would be.