Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks just got punked out of the playoffs by the Atlanta Hawks. Jimmy Butler went out sad against the Bucks. Chandler Hutchison’s playoff TikToks are done.
And then there’s Cameron Payne.
Known as The Tank Commander during his time with the Bulls (outside of that one insane game in which he hit seven 3-pointers in the second half), Payne has now developed into one of the best backup point guards in the NBA and is making waves in the first round against none other than LeBron James and the Lakers. It really started in the bubble last year and has continued on throughout this season and into the playoffs.
The Suns have the battered Lakers on the ropes after a dominant Game 5 performance in Phoenix. Payne played a key role in the victory, putting up 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting to help the Suns go up 3-2 in the series. Payne has seen even more minutes than usual this series because of Chris Paul’s shoulder problems, and he has embraced the challenge and played with a confidence and swagger that was rarely seen in Chicago.
After averaging 8.4 points, 3.6 assists and 2.4 rebounds while shooting 48.4% from the field and 44.0% from 3-point range in the regular season, Payne is at 13.6 points, 3.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game on 45.6% shooting and 43.5% from 3 against the Lakers. He has taken it to LeBron on multiple occasions and has closed games with CP3 hurting.
It’s truly shocking to see after Payne looked like one of the worst players in the NBA with the Bulls. Remember that alleged quote claiming the Bulls knew after two practices that Payne couldn’t play in the NBA and that they had been “Garred?” Based on his time in Chicago, I would have guessed he would be out of the NBA soon enough. I remember arguing with Darnell Mayberry about how bad Payne was, but he insisted there was a good player in there. Vindication for Darnell!
Payne did indeed bounce around a few other places, including a stint in China, before joining Phoenix. Clearly he has found a comfortable home there. While playing behind a Hall of Famer like CP3 and for head coach Monty Williams is surely helping him, he deserves a lot of credit for turning himself into this after he was so awful to start his career. I know injuries were an issue, but this is still quite the leap for him.
I’m certainly not mad at the Bulls for giving up on Payne. He wasn’t working out and needed to go. But at the very least, he’s an example of the need for patience with young players. We can often be extremely impatient with young guys and want to discard them right away (in some cases it’s obviously warranted), but patience and development can help bring out the best in some.
Cam Payne has come a long way since being known for his dance moves and Russell Westbrook handshakes. He’s now bringing the pain to the Lakers and will try to help eliminate the defending champs, which would mean LeBron James’ first first-round playoff elimination ever.