Cameron Payne is probably the highest rated prospect you’ve never heard of. Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Payne comes from a long line of Memphis basketball players that includes the likes of Penny Hardaway, Shawn Marion, and Thaddeus Young, among many other pro hoopers who have come from Tennessee’s western most cities. Unlike those players, Cameron Payne doesn’t come from a traditional high school basketball powerhouse.
Instead, he went to Lausanne Collegiate School, a high school far more renowned for football than basketball, and followed it by going to Murray State, hardly a NCAA powerhouse. Nonetheless, Payne has made his name known throughout the NBA as the best mid major guard in the draft and inches ever slowly towards a lottery selection in late June. However, when a player of this caliber comes from a basketball pedigree with little prestige as Payne’s does, NBA scouts tend to have questions. Luckily for them, Cameron Payne has a plethora of answers.
Out of high school, Cameron Payne did not have as many offers as one would expect. He couldn’t crack the top ten players in the state of Tennessee, and thus opted to attend Murray State, a state school in the Ohio Valley Conference notorious for tournament overachievement and solid guard play. At Murray State, Payne replaced Isaiah Canaan, an All-American point guard who solidified his legend at Murray State.
Canaan was responsible for beating the then ranked Vanderbilt Commodores in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, won back to back conference player of the year honors, and earned a second round pick from the Houston Rockets in the 2013 NBA Draft. Needless to say, Payne had big shoes to fill.
Cameron Payne had no problem shouldering the legacy laid out for him by Canaan. As a freshman, he averaged 16.8 points per game, 5.4 assists per game, and 1.7 steals per game, earning Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year honors. The following season he ratcheted those stats up, adding 20.2 points per game, 6.0 assists per game, and 1.8 steals per game to a Racers team that narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament.
On a deeper level, Payne was the dominant force on the Racers this past season, with a 32% usage rate, highest of anyone projected in the first round, and 39.5% assist percentage, the best of any player in the draft. Needless to say, Cameron Payne did everything he could to help Murray State win games.
NBA scouts see Cameron Payne as a leader, an unselfish guard, and a player who can score at will, three extremely intriguing characteristics for a man headed into the NBA Draft. Clearly, the statistics point to Payne being the most efficient guard in the entire draft, which helps explain why he is skyrocketing up draft boards, with even the Knicks rumored to take him with their number four pick. The only question remains his competition. While the Ohio Valley Conference remains amongst the top mid majors every year, it is still just that, a mid major.
Thus, NBA scouts tend to question if Payne could put up such gaudy stats against fiercer competition. I would love to turn their attention to his high school days, where he saw the same criticism. Cameron Payne did not play at the best basketball high school in the country, and thus was relegated to Murray State, where he shined. While the transition to the NBA will be slightly different, I’d estimate that a player of Payne’s caliber will find a way to compete at the highest level.