It took Gary Payton II a full six seasons before finally finding his niche in the NBA. Would he have developed into a premier role player for any team besides the Golden State Warriors?
Payton’s brief tenure with the Portland Trail Blazers earlier this season, while marred by injury, still lends credence to the notion his game is uniquely suited to the Warriors’ system. And as the playoffs fast approach, the veteran guard knows the valuable experience and perspective he gained with Golden State during last season’s title run could rub off on this team’s supporting cast.
“I think the role players are starting to understand it’s getting down to the season, so it’s definitely less is more,” Payton said on NBC Sports Bay Area after Friday’s win over the San Antonio Spurs. “Just do the little things, the right things, and like I said, let the heavy-load guys do what they do. We just gotta put ’em in the right position to be great.”
GP2 preaches doing the little things to the role players pic.twitter.com/qpXspgU6eV
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) April 1, 2023
Those little and right things were largely absent from Golden State’s win over San Antonio despite the lopsided final score. The Dubs fell down by nine early and trailed going into the fourth quarter, beset by a rash of careless turnovers and lacking defensive focus.
Steph Curry and Jordan Poole came alive to get a crucial late-season win, but the Dubs definitely weren't at their best against San Antonio.
— Warriors Nation (@WarriorNationCP) April 1, 2023
The game turned once the Warriors—Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole specifically—got hot from deep after missing their first 13 three-point attempts. But the mindset Payton discussed after the game was on full display late in the fourth quarter, even as Golden State was suddenly nursing a 14-point advantage.
How many players in basketball hustle like this with the outcome already decided?
Role players aren’t a monolith. Payton is asked to do different things than Jonathan Kuminga, who’s asked to do different things than Donte DiVincenzo, who’s asked to different things than Anthony Lamb. But all of those guys are tasked with making multiple efforts on both ends, screening and defending hard and trusting the pass.
With Payton back onboard, don’t be surprised if the Warriors’ supporting cast more frequently taps into that grunt work, heeding his palpable example.