How Warriors Could Replace Gary Payton II

How could Warriors replace GP2 if he leaves in free agency? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

Gary Payton II’s unique skills and long road to the NBA finally found a home in the Bay Area last season with the warriors† But now the champion could pack his bags for another team in free agency.

The two sides — Payton and the Warriors — feel like a perfect match. Steph Curry and Draymond Green begged the Warriors to bring Payton back on a second 10-day contract in the 2020-21 season. He played one preseason game for the 2021-22 season, finishing 15th on the roster on the same day as the regular season. Then it became clear what a difference-maker the 29-year-old is.

Payton’s style of play is idiosyncratic to say the least. How many 6-foot-3 (maybe) players are used as their team’s dunkers on offense? At the same time, Payton can pick up the opposing team’s top scorer or ballhandler up and down the field. And how many teams know how to use that in the right way?

Not much.

After struggling through the G League with five different teams and finding short stops in the NBA for last season, Payton has earned the right to test the market and see how other teams rate him. A reunion with the Warriors certainly feels like the ideal situation for both parties. In addition, the Warriors have Payton’s Early Bird rights, allowing them to offer Payton a two- to four-year contract with an eight percent pay increase and a starting salary of up to 105 percent of the league’s average salary.

But what if his time wearing a Warriors jersey has come to an end? Here’s what the Warriors can do now.

Moody-Kuminga Combination

While Payton was recovering and working to return from a broken left elbow in the playoffs, Moody essentially got GP2 minutes at age 19 in the Western Conference finals. He averaged 12.8 minutes per game for the series vs. the Dallas Mavericks and averaged 4.6 points while making half of his 3-point attempts.

When the Warriors’ backups, including Moody, almost made a wild comeback in the fourth quarter in Game 4, Moody scored eight points and made two three-pointers in the frame. He also had two steals in the fourth and four deflected passes. His 10 minutes in that fourth quarter opened many eyes.

Moody is 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He plays the game smart with a lot of hustle. Coaches and players trust him. Expect a big jump in year 2.

Jonathan Kuminga is already a standout waiting to happen. The 19-year-old automatically becomes the Warriors’ dunker with his floating bounce as soon as he steps on the ground. He needs to keep working on his outside shot from deep just like Payton, and he doesn’t come close to the same smart defender as Payton.

He is also 10 years younger. That will come with time. Both players are expected to play a bigger role next season, and the combination of the two adds to what the Warriors asked of Payton.

Free agents

There is not one free agent that plays the game in the exact same way as Payton. In his own right, he would be somewhat impossible to completely replace. A few names come to mind.

If the Warriors want to try it against another defensive player who is a great athlete, think former first-rounder Josh Okogie. Okogie struggles with his shot, great. He is also 6-foot-4, has a 7-foot wingspan and is a strong perimeter defender. That’s one way.

If the Warriors want to shoot more, Bryn Forbes makes sense. Forbes has a winning pedigree with his time on the San Antonio Spurs and went on to win a championship with the Milwaukee Bucks. The 6-foot-2 guard shot 41.4 percent from deep last season, which is essentially his career mark. He also scored 22 points and made four threes against the Warriors last season with the Denver Nuggets in a Golden State loss.

If the Warriors want to revive a former star, they may try to persuade Victor Oladipo to win a ring. Oladipo is now 30 years old. Injuries have changed the path of his career and he played just eight regular season games in 2021-22. In the playoffs, he scored more than 20 points twice and hit six double-digit points. Worth the risk?

We will see.

Other internal options

It’s a real shame that the second round picks Ryan Rollins does not play in the summer league after his mandatory physique showed a stress fracture in his right foot. Steve Kerr is a huge fan of his and the Warriors feel like they got a bargain in the draft. Just looking at his arms hanging on the floor, it’s easy to see a possible replacement for Payton in the future.

Rollins turns 20 on July 3. He is still young and needs time to develop. He is also slightly taller than six feet and has a wingspan of six feet with the athleticism to play a great defense one day. Even if the Warriors bring Payton back, Rollins can step into the roadside rotation in his place.

RELATED: Time to rediscover the value of Warriors culture in free agency

The last player to keep an eye on is Quinndary Weatherspoon. When he gets his chances, the two-way player looks like an NBA contributor. He is resilient, athletic enough and knows that defending is his first ticket to playing time. A big showing in the summer league will only help his cause, especially if he can knock down shots with a strong clip.

There is no perfect replacement for Payton. That’s one of the reasons the Warriors want to bring him back. If he wears a different jersey next season, there are opportunities to go down — some more creative than others.

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