There are few NBA players who have ever enjoyed the kind of dominant stretch New Orleans Pelicans guard Elfrid Payton has recently put together.
Payton has recorded triple-doubles in five consecutive games, becoming the fifth player in NBA history to accomplish that feat. The 25-year-old joined just Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook as the only people to ever record such a streak.
He has produced a jaw-dropping 12.1 points, 9.6 assists and 8.0 assists per game since the All-Star break. In fact, no one has recorded more assists (135) in the NBA during this stretch. When HoopsHype informed him of his elite company and league-high assists, Payton was admittedly shocked.
“This is all so crazy. I didn’t know any of this, so it’s kind of wild,” Payton said with a laugh. “I’m surprised! It’s a cool feeling.”
When breaking down his success, one of the first things that pops out is his effectiveness creating out of the pick-and-roll. There, his numbers begin to jump off the page and show why he’s been so productive as of late.
Watch him get the rebound and then turn it into a pick-and-roll assist during the Pelicans’ overtime game against the Dallas Mavericks. It is a fantastic example of the many ways he can make an impact on the court.
New Orleans is currently averaging 1.21 points per possessions on plays when Payton has passed to teammates as the primary ball handler in a pick-and-roll offense. That is a career-best for the Louisiana-born point guard.
“I’m a pass-first player, but in order for that to work, I have to be aggressive – or at least give the impression that I’m being aggressive to keep the defense honest,” Payton told HoopsHype. “I have to get downhill, attack the bigs and then just make the right reads from there.
“Obviously, in a pick-and-roll, your reads are so important. I don’t even think about my man. I feel like he’s out of the play once the screen is set and now I’m just trying to make a read on what that big is doing. Nine times out of 10, I’m also trying to make a read on what that opposite defender is doing – whether he’s going to pull in or stay home with his shooter. It’s all about making the right reads.”
According to Synergy Sports, his current mark ranks in the 84th percentile among all players this season. Among those with at least 100 opportunities, only seven players have been more efficient.
This is especially good news because this was one of his below-average traits in college and during his first few years in the NBA.
“I think watching film and getting game reps are the best ways to improve as a pick-and-roll ballhandler,” Payton said. “There are a few drills that you can do in practice that coaches have taught me and helped me with throughout my career. But I think you mainly have to rely on a combination of watching the film to get mental reps and getting the actual in-game reps.
“I feel like I’ve grown a lot. Not only did I watch film of myself and get a lot of those in-game reps, but I was also able to make mistakes and learn from those. I’ve definitely gotten better over the years.”
Payton has been particularly productive when finding spot-up shooters on the Pelicans. He is averaging 1.34 PPP (putting him in the 97th percentile) on this play type, which is the best overall among the 122 other players who have completed at least 40 passes in this type of offense.
He’s had his best connection with Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore, who have both made over half of their total three-point attempts after passes from the 25-year-old guard this season.
These three players have appeared on the court for more than 300 minutes together and have outscored opponents by 9.6 points per 100 possessions.
“I take a lot of pride in making the people around me better – on and off the court. I think that’s one of my gifts from God and it’s something that’s important to me. Now that I’m hearing these stats, I guess I’ve been doing a decent job of that!” joked Payton. “I really take pride in making my teammates better. It takes time and you have to get to know them well. You need to know where they like to get the ball, what shots they’re comfortable taking and things like that.”
Additionally, when tasked with high pick-and-roll plays, Payton has risen to the occasion with extraordinary success.
His teammates are shooting 30-for-49 (61.2 percent) on these opportunities, which is more accurate than all 125 other players who have completed more than 45 passes out of the high pick-and-roll. Before this season, his teammates had connected on less than half of their field goals following his passes from the high pick-and-roll.
Payton’s teammates clearly have confidence in him, which is very important for a floor general.
“It means a lot. It kinds of makes them go a little bit harder. Sometimes, I’ve seen when a player thinks someone isn’t going to do the right thing or make the right decision, they don’t tend to go as hard,” Payton explained. “I think with me, everybody goes hard and expects me to make the right decision. They also give me the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say I don’t make the right decision one time, my guys know, ‘That’s not going to happen again.’ I think the guys have a lot of confidence in me and like playing with me.”
They’ve certainly been productive alongside Payton, who is set to hit unrestricted free agency this summer.