Payne finally makes gains with Chicago Bulls' second unit
It has been more than a year since Cameron Payne joined the Bulls in a trade from Oklahoma City, but after a few bumps and a long layoff after foot surgery, he's finally showing some of the skills that made him a first-round pick.
Over the past five games, Payne has averaged 10.2 points and 2.4 assists while playing backup minutes at point guard. He has shot an impressive 53 percent from the field and hit 8 of 14 shots from 3-point range.
Payne believes quick decisions are a key to his success.
"We talk a lot about .5 basketball," Payne said Wednesday. "Have the ball .5 seconds. Do what you're going to do. Don't sit and think about it.
"As soon as we get the ball, I try to get it up as quick as I can, get it out of my hand. And if it comes back, try to make a quick decision."
By thinking fast on the floor, Payne has pushed the pace to play the up-tempo style coach Fred Hoiberg favors.
Even though the Bulls are not always putting their best players on the floor, their second group has been successful with Payne at the point. The reserves produced a 29-5 run in the second quarter at Atlanta on Sunday. They made a smaller surge Tuesday against the Clippers.
"Cam has been great," Hoiberg said. "I love his aggressiveness right now, his push, his thrust. He is playing with a swagger, which is good to see. It's kind of who he was when he was coming out."
In 2015, Payne was the No. 14 overall pick out of Murray State. During the Oklahoma City phase of his career, he was known as Russell Westbrook's pregame dance partner. He moved to the Bulls in the trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder, but didn't have much of an opportunity last season since he joined a team that was fighting for a playoff spot. After a brief appearance at the Las Vegas summer league, where he took too many quick shots, Payne had foot surgery in September and didn't make his season debut until Feb. 22.
"It's definitely been a long time, a year, really two, since I've been playing like this," Payne said. "It's fun, man. I couldn't be more grateful.
"I'm about 80-85 (percent in shape). Picking up full, then they're picking you up full, they're trying to run fast. Then trying to play 10 minutes straight, it's not easy. I'm starting to pick it up."
One awkward reality is that Payne's close friend, Jerian Grant, had to take a seat on the bench so Payne could play.
"It's obviously tough for him, but we're real cool guys," Payne said. "We have a good friendship. When he's out, he's helping me. I really appreciate it. A lot of guys don't have the heart do stuff like that. I really appreciate Jerian."
Was Westbrook as helpful?
"Absolutely," Payne said with a smile. "He played 40 minutes a game, though. He's real cool. When you get on the court, it's (our) 15 guys. He doesn't care about the other team. Outside, he's one of the funniest guys to be around."