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2015-16 Thunder Player Grades: Cameron Payne flashes future potential

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The Oklahoma City Thunder hope Cam Payne is the last lottery selection they'll make for awhile. The rookie from Murray State showed he had talent, but didn't always have the coaching staff's trust.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

FULL NAME: Cameron Payne

NICKNAME: "The Campaign," "Killa Cam," "Smooth"

CONTRACT STATUS: Payne signed a 2 year / $4,134,000 contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and possess a team option for 2017-18 and 2018-19.

NOTABLE FACTOID: Didn't get his own car until he was drafted by OKC in the 2015 NBA Draft.

PLAYER HISTORY

Cam Payne was drafted 14th overall by the Thunder in the 2015 NBA Draft. Rumors ran rampant that Payne had secured a promise from a team in the lottery and shut down his workouts after receiving said promise. In actuality, a fractured ring finger on his right hand probably led him to only work out for a select number of NBA teams.

Payne had a decorated two-year career at Murray State. He won the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) Player of the Year in 2015 along with the Lute Olson Award, which is awarded to the nation's top non-freshman and non-transfer men's player in NCAA Division I basketball. He was a two time First Team All-OVC member and won the OVC Freshman of the Year award in 2014.

PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS

The fractured ring finger kept Payne sidelined during the Thunder's Orlando Summer League stint, which was a disappointment for fans. Yet, when the basketballs were rolled out for training camp, Payne was fully cleared to participate.

Payne did much more than participate, he turned heads and got the attention of OKC veterans. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant took notice and bestowed the nickname, "Smooth" upon the rookie.

Payne played in all six of the Thunder's preseason games and put together a solid stat line: 6.83 PPG, 2.17 RPG, 2 APG, 0.67 BPG, 0.67 SPG on 47.1 percent shooting from the field and an outstanding 46.7 three-point field goal percentage in 13 minutes per game.

His propensity to turn the ball over (1.5 per game) was a cause for worry, but at the time he was slotted as the third point guard for OKC behind Westbrook and D.J. Augustin.

REGULAR SEASON GRADE: C+

Payne was with the team often even though he only saw the floor in blowouts to begin the season. He was only assigned to the Thunder's NBA Development League team, the Oklahoma City Blue, twice all year--December 5th and December 15th. However, both stints were temporary as he was recalled to the Thunder the next day each time.

It wasn't long before the potential and promise he flashed in training camp and preseason earned him the trust of the coaching staff. By the end of December, Payne had usurped Augustin as the team's backup point guard and was excelling at it. In first 25 games of his new role, he averaged 7.4 points and 2.6 assists per game while hitting 39% of his three point attempts. His addition to the second unit brought a new life to bench group. Heading into the All-Star break it seemed that Payne had firmly planted himself into Billy Donovan's rotation.

That all changed after the trade deadline. The Thunder moved Augustin, along with Steve Novak and two second-found picks to the Nuggets for guard Randy Foye. What at first looked like a move to cement Payne as the number two point guard turned out to erase Payne's minutes. On February 25th, Donovan debuted OKC's staggered rotation, but it was also the night that Foye took away Payne's spot in the rotation.

For the remainder of the season, Payne was stuck on the bench, unable to get back onto the floor. Once again Payne was forced to play in the final minutes of games that were already decided. By the end of the season the bright moments from the middle of the year were long forgotten.

POST SEASON GRADE: D-

Payne began the post season on the bench just as he finished the regular season. In the first round he made the news more for his dancing than his play on the court. His sideline reactions as the Thunder disposed of the Dallas Mavericks were golden. After a five-game series against Dallas it looked like Payne was going to be stuck in a position similar to Jeremy Lamb in 2014. Lamb had a solid stretch of play during the regular season, but ultimately lost his playing time to a veteran, Caron Butler, that was added late in the season.

Next came the San Antonio Spurs and in Game 1 Payne got his regular backup minutes of just over 18. However, the Thunder would lose by 32 and it was never really close after the opening tip. Yet, Donovan went back to Payne in the next two games against the Spurs, hoping his rested legs and youthful athleticism would be a matchup problem for the older Spurs guards. Payne was completely out of rhythm by then though. He missed all three of his shots, committing a turnover and two fouls in nine minutes of action in Game 2. Game 3 was barely better, he went two for seven (missing all four of his three point attempts) and committed two turnovers while tallying zero assists. By Game 4 the coaching staff went back to Foye and Payne would only play 19 seconds the remainder of the series.

After failing to get his game going against San Antonio, Payne was back to riding pine in the Western a conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors. He didn't play a single minute in four of the seven games--only seeing the floor in the three blowouts Games 2-4. As the Thunder were eliminated in Oracle Arena Payne was left as an afterthought for Oklahoma City's stellar 2016 post season run.

MOST NOTABLE GAME/MOMENT

His pregame dances with Westbrook will live on forever in my mind and the hope is that they will only get better for next season. However the moment that loops continuously when I think about Payne's 2015-16 season is his tilt-a-whirl, pretend hula hoop celebration following an Andre Roberson steal and slam against the Dallas Mavericks.

FUTURE EXPECTATIONS

Payne should be able to regain hold as the Thunder's backup point guard next year. Foye is a free agent this offseason and even if OKC was to bring him back the thought is that it would be for his locker room presence than his play on the court.

There is talent and the player he has the potential to come is going to see the Thunder community wanting more from Payne in his second go round with OKC. There is a precedent for Payne's development. Neither James Harden or Reggie Jackson had a huge presence in their rookie seasons, but both saw noticeable increases across the board in the second year before really taking off in year three.

If Payne can make even the slightest of improvements it will be advantageous for the Thunder, but if he can give OKC what Harden and Jackson were giving at the height of their time with Oklahoma City it will be dangerous for the rest of the league. I believe in Cam Payne and if the Thunder are able to play both Westbrook and Payne together next year OKC could be on their way to becoming an even more versatile team than they showed this year.