Adreian Payne isn’t used to mediocrity. Aside from a subpar freshman campaign, Payne’s college teams won over 75 percent of their games.
Winning becomes a culture, and the Michigan State Spartans have been a constant in the college hoops scene. This can mostly be attributed to Tom Izzo, but Payne had a substantial role in his final three seasons on campus.
Payne is now with the Atlanta Hawks, a team that has been firmly anchored to the NBA’s middle ground. They have made the playoffs the last seven seasons, but mostly as lower seeds. Their lone great season came in 2009, the franchise’s first 50-win season in over a decade.
The franchise’s most recognizable name, Dominique Wilkens, hasn’t been in uniform for the Hawks since 1994. Besides the Human Highlight Reel, there isn’t much of a legacy. Dikembe Mutombo was a journeyman, and Joe Johnson never really seemed to embrace playing in Phillips Arena.
So the Hawks aren’t the most successful franchise, but last year seemed to be a step in the right direction. The team embraced the role of underdogs, taking the top-seeded Indiana Pacers to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
Looking at the Hawks’ roster, they seem like more than a 38-win team, especially in the Eastern Conference. Their main downfall was how poorly they played away from home. Injuries to big man Al Horford didn’t help either.
The Hawks have a solid backcourt, with up-and-coming point guard Jeff Teague and sharpshooter Kyle Korver. Neither are dynamic scorers, but each are solid mid-level players. Teague has improved every year in the league, and Korver can quickly heat up.
The frontcourt is also full of solid, yet not quite upper-echelon, players. DeMarre Carroll is the weak link, despite having a breakout season last year. He has been a bit of a journeyman, but appears to be a decent holdover until a better small forward arrives.
The post players are Horford and Paul Millsap. Millsap was an undervalued second round pick who developed a reputation as a hard-working, if undersized, banger. He is a good rebounder, but he was an inefficient scorer. He shot 46 percent from the field, well below what is hoped for from big man.
Horford has been another model of consistency during his tenure with the Hawks. If he isn’t injured, he can be counted on for about 14 points and 9 rebounds a game.
Payne will likely be backing up Millsap, and he will compete for minutes with Elton Brand and Gustavo Ayon. Brand needs no introduction, a once dominant player riding out his sunset years. He still contributed 20 minutes a game, but lost of some of the quickness that made him a premier scorer. However, he is a completely different player from Payne. Brand may be brought in to defend bulkier players, while Payne will be called upon to play against stretch fours.
Ayon played limited minutes, chipping in four points and four rebounds a game. His season, along with almost every other season he played, has been limited by injuries. Payne will likely supplant his minutes, even if Ayon remains healthy.
The Hawks have a logjam of big men behind Horford at center, so Payne may have to compete against a couple of seven-footers if the Hawks want to go really big. Mike Muscala came over from Spain at the tail end of the season, Pero Antic has seen minutes, and then there is 7 foot 3 giant Walter Tavares. Payne is six foot ten, so he wouldn’t be much of a downgrade in that department. He also has range that none of these players possess, so it’s likely he would beat these players out.
My prediction: Payne has a solid rookie season and slowly eases Ayon out of the rotation, while occasionally replacing Brand as the go-to backup power forward. The Hawks have some pretty sweet uniforms, so a Payne jersey wouldn’t be a bad addition to a Spartan fan’s wardrobe.