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Oklahoma City Thunder: The campaign for Cameron Payne

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Why Thunder Nation should support Cameron Payne through his ups and downs

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The campaign for Cam Payne.

75 games. Less than 1000 minutes. Before we go any further, I want to highlight these numbers because THESE are probably the most influential and important numbers when discussing Oklahoma City Thunder guard Cameron Payne.

The Thunder’s first round pick in the 2015 NBA Draft was Cameron Payne at #14. It was an interesting selection, choosing the silky smooth left handed shooter from Murray State but when he was finally inserted into the rotation after Christmas, Payne let his game do the talking. He was effective and efficient and seems extremely comfortable playing a lead role off the bench, something that had been sorely missing since a fellow lefty James Harden left town. For a rookie, he seemed surprisingly unfazed by the pace of the game and was never “rushed”, but gave the bench some structure and poise.

When the Thunder were eliminated from the post-season, many thought that Payne would be a very valuable piece in OKC taking things to the next level. A solid rookie year coupled with a big off-season and Summer League and Payne would be ready to take the league by storm and to ensure the Thunder stayed competitive when the starters were off the floor.

When the Summer League rolled around, plenty of Thunder fans were excited. Payne had spent some time in the weight room and while he hadn’t added a lot of weight, he appeared to be a lot stronger. He was finishing his drives through contact and just being able to get to the spot he wanted a little easier than he had a few months earlier. Through four games in Orlando, Payne averaged 18.8ppg, shot a respectable 44% from the floor while also grabbing over four rebounds and dishing out four assists per game.

The regular season couldn’t come quickly enough as the Thunder wanted to put the devastating loss behind them, and aim to go one better. But the off-season took a rather unexpected turn…. Safe to say by the time the regular season was about to tip off, the landscape looked rather different in Oklahoma City. Rather than playing a complementary role and being allowed to develop more gradually, the Thunder needed someone to help ease the loss of 30 points per game and dangerous outside shooting.

Fans instantly looked at Cameron Payne as the guy who could step up. Unfortunately, Payne sustained a foot fracture and was unable to get on the court until just recently. With every loss, the bench depth has been one of the loudest complaints. Semaj Christon filled in admirably, but many felt that Payne was going to be able to bring some additional polish, more efficient scoring and not just keep the second unit in the game but in fact use his game to “beat up” on opposition reserve units.

So far that has yet to be the case.

75 games. Less than 1000 minutes. Cameron Payne is still finding his feet (no pun intended) after the fracture and it shows. Many are quick to jump on his lacklustre performances suggesting that he “isn’t the guy we thought we drafted” but the truth is he is just not up to speed yet. That foot injury has made life much tougher for Payne to impact games. He isn’t game fit yet, is still working his way back into the rotation and is playing with a largely different bench unit than he did in his rookie season. Couple with that, Enes Kanter’s injury and you have a situation that is less than ideal and tough to gauge.

He has shown promise though. Especially against the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he was able to pick his spots and make his shots. These are the types of games that have Thunder fans hopeful and haters a little hesitant to write him off just yet. Payne shows promise and poise, but the Thunder fan faithful are having difficulty doing the same. It’s not Cameron Payne’s fault – we just want the team to win now, we want the brilliance of Russell Westbrook to not be wasted. We want the pain of the off-season diminished, and most of us saw Payne as the medicine.

I still think he’s the answer to the Thunder’s problems. While we’ve only seen it in spurts, there is enough natural talent to suggest that Payne can be a “McCollum-lite” kind of guy for OKC. We just need to give him time. And the thing is….. Oklahoma City has time. When KD left, everyone wanted an instant replacement. A “like for like” trade that would keep us at the top of the tables, but that would have been a knee-jerk reaction and we all know Sam Presti won’t make hasty decisions. He does have a knack for drafting talent though (look at Steven Adams for instance) and Cam Payne could be the next in line to showcase the sharp mind of the Thunder GM.

For now, we have to ride with the sloppy ball handling, the lack of match fitness, the less than potent second unit (at least until that Kanter forearm heals) while we wait for Payne to get back to where he was during the Summer League. Payne’s per-36 numbers were terrific in his rookie season and we can expect these types of results, we just can’t expect them right now.

What we should do, is root for the guy. Let’s build him up, give him the confidence he needs to get to where we want him to get to. He hasn’t played a full NBA season yet and is well under done but can still be an important factor this season as the Thunder strive for yet another post season. Don’t let our want to be perfect get in the way of being very good. Cameron Payne is very good and it won’t be long before I give you another set of numbers to prove it.