DENVER — Gary Payton II wasn’t sure he would be here.
But as he’s done all season, he’s proved he belongs in the playoffs and can make an impact on a championship contending team.
“It’s just about time,” Payton II said Friday after practice.
Payton II has written one of the most epic underdog stories in the NBA despite being the namesake of one of the league’s biggest players of the 90s. And he’s continuing to play himself into a nice pay raise this offseason.
Not that he’s thinking about that now, with the Warriors on the brink of sweeping the Nuggets. His focus His is on winning.
“We worry about all the business stuff after,” he said.
Payton II has gone from being the last man on the Warriors’ roster to being one of the first players coach Steve Kerr calls on when the starters need to be relieved. That is, when Stephen Curry isn’t making a case for being the best sixth man of all time.
And in the playoffs, Payton II has provided a key spark off the bench for Golden State as his presence alone has changed the flow of games. Known for his ball-hounding defense, Payton II has had two big blocks in this series against reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, including a big one in Game 2, where he stopped the Joker from making a putback bucket.
In Game 3 on Thursday, Payton II made an immediate impact, grabbing three rebounds, including two defensive boards, and scoring five points in his first two minutes. He finished with 11 points on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting and made all three of his 3-point attempts.
“He was great on the ball, his ball pressure. He knocked down open shots early in the game when they decided to keep leaving him open,” Draymond Green said after the win. “He’s been incredible all year though, and to see him continue that through the playoffs… Everybody’s not cut out for the playoffs, GP is showing that with his toughness his and with the mindset that he has [he is.]
“You gotta give credit to guys who show up in the playoffs because it’s just not a normal thing in this league.”
It’s especially unique for a player like Payton II who’s been clawing for an opportunity to play basketball his entire adult life.
The 29-year-old guard played at a community college before getting a shot at Oregon State. Then, he went undrafted and bounced around the NBA and G League for the last five years mostly as a fringe player, signing 10-day and two-way contracts. Before this season, he never played 30 NBA games in a season.
“After you get cut or something, get waived, whatever, [you] just go back to the drawing board, go back to grinding,” Payton II said, “and just continue to get the reps and just keep going, wait til my next opportunity and just be ready.”
That patience and dedication paid off this fall.
After being cut from training camp, the Warriors decided to bring him back in October to fill the 15th spot on their roster.
Since then, Payton II blossomed into one of Golden State’s biggest contributors off the bench. He led the Warriors in deflections (180) and steals (96) this season while playing an average of 17.6 minutes per game.
“He’s latched onto his minutes and he hasn’t looked back,” coach Steve Kerr said. “It seems like every time we put him out there, something good happens. So just really happy for him. You always appreciate the guys who have to swim upstream to make it and he’s had to swim a long way.”