Golden State Warriors guard Gary Payton II fractured his left elbow in the Western Conference Semifinals when Memphis Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks committed a flagrant two foul that slammed him to the floor. The early prognosis on Payton’s injury made him unavailable for the remainder of the Western Conference Semis and likely the postseason, but that could be changing. According to a report by The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Payton is expected to return in the NBA Finals.
Warriors guard Gary Payton II (elbow fracture) is expected to return in the NBA Finals, sources say. Here's how soon: pic.twitter.com/6TaaQri0Wc— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) May 27, 2022
This season, Payton has been one of the best stories on the Warriors roster. After a pair of 10-day contracts last season, Payton signed a non-guaranteed deal with Golden State last offseason. The son of NBA Hall of Famer Gary Payton, the younger Payton shares his father’s defensive tenacity and knack for making opposing ball handlers uncomfortable.
Payton’s defensive presence helped him beat out veteran guard Avery Bradley for the final spot on the Warriors roster this preseason, although his showing was not impressive enough to get picked up by another team when Golden State waived him at the start of the season to save luxury tax money. However, soon after rejoining the roster, Payton emerged as a pivotal part of head coach Steve Kerr’s rotation.
Payton’s defensive prowess has always been NBA-worthy, but his offensive game has flourished in the Warriors system, where he has consistently knocked down open threes and wreaked havoc slashing to the rim. Payton appeared in 71 regular-season games for the Warriors (16 starts) this season, averaging 17.6 minutes, 7.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game on .616/.358/.603 shooting.
It might be unrealistic to expect Payton to offer any contributions offensively after a severe injury to his shooting arm. Still, as the Warriors gear up for the NBA Finals, getting Payton back in the rotation would at least give them an elite defensive weapon to utilize against primary ball handlers on either the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics.