The best player in a Chicago Bulls uniform last night was Cameron Payne.
Don’t bother checking the box score, because this seriously isn’t a typo. In 23 minutes of playing time, Payne tied a career high with 17 points on 6-for-10 from the field (4-for-6 from behind the 3-point line) while also swiping two steals and turning the ball over twice (the date on the video below is way off, but it’s the right one).
For starters, it’s good to see Payne get some 3-point field goals to drop even though his slow-releasing, left-handed shot that he virtually launches from his chest is still really ugly. The hot shooting last night catapulted his 3-point field goal percentage for the season up to a respectable 32 percent, after it hovered at 21.1 percent before this game.
Steady 3-point shooting is a key ingredient in the composition of an ideal Bulls backup point guard in a pace-and-space system. If Payne can shoot it effectively from deep in a consistent manner, that would go a long way towards erasing the negative narrative that has enveloped him throughout his time in Chicago.
Also, we saw kind of a “vintage” Payne play in this game:
This is like vintage Cam Payne in one video: uses craftiness (rather than elite first step quickness) to get past defender, can't get all the way to the bucket but uses that great floater to pour in two points #BullsNation #Bulls pic.twitter.com/Kcn7ivFTgi— Paul Steeno (@KingSteeno) March 10, 2018
Payne doesn’t have elite first-step quickness, so he relies more on craftiness to beat his defender. He finishes with a floater (as opposed to getting all the way to the basket), which is typical for him.
However, Payne has been finishing at the basket significantly better this season than in past seasons. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Payne hits at a 64.3 percent clip from 0-3 feet from the basket this season which is much better than the 47.2 and 33.3 percent clip he shot from this range in his first two seasons in the NBA respectively.
When Payne returned from his injury, the Bulls expectations for him were pretty simple.
In announcing the rotational changes Tuesday, executive vice president John Paxson and coach Fred Hoiberg said Payne’s mandate is to play with pace and run the offense with limited turnovers.
He has played with pace. According to NBA.com, Payne has played with a 101.88 pace this season, which is the highest on the Bulls outside of Noah Vonleh (103.78). He has also taken care of the ball: his assist to turnover ratio is 2.30, which is the fourth-best mark on the Bulls.
Per 36 minutes, his scoring numbers, true shooting percentage, and player efficiency rating are higher than they have ever been in his NBA career.
Payne still has a lot of issues with his game that Bulls Twitter loves to point out. Improvement for him is incremental, and when you put it in the context of comparing him to other NBA guards it becomes less impressive.
However, in the interest of giving credit where credit is due, Payne has quietly had a decent season (albeit a small sample size of eight games) as he continues to try to stake claim to the backup point guard of the future role on these Bulls.