Payne an addition to Hawks’ frontcourt versatility

Adreian Payne has a new home in Atlanta — right alongside Al Horford and Paul Millsap.

The Hawks drafted Payne to be an addition to an already versatile frontcourt. The forward, selected with the 15th overall pick in Thursday’s NBA draft, can play from underneath the basket on out to the 3-point line. He joins Mike Scott, Pero Antic, Mike Muscala, Horford and Millsap — all players with that skill set to varying degrees — in the Hawks’ offensive system predicated on space and pace.

General manger Danny Ferry used the term “stretch big” to describe Payne. Coach Mike Budenholzer offered “stretch good” as his depiction.

“Hopefully we get bigs who are versatile and not one-dimensional,” Budenholzer said Friday. “They are not just a shooter. They are not just a post-up guy. Paul and Al are very versatile, and I’m hoping Adreian is going to be something similar where he has a lot of different skill.”

The Hawks drafted Payne with the intention of adding him to the group of forwards and centers who will play in any number of different pairings and combinations. The Hawks have no defined depth chart at center and power forward.

Payne (6-foot-10, 245 pounds) was measured with a 7-4 wingspan and a 9-1 standing reach at this year’s scouting combine. He adds length to the Hawks’ frontcourt, another positive attribute in contributing to the Hawks’ draft decision.

Payne considered leaving Michigan State last year after his junior season. He returned to school to continue his development and chase a national championship. He averaged 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds as a senior while unknowingly playing with mononucleosis. The Spartans advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national champion Connecticut.

“We don’t know where he would have went last year because you never know what the draft brings,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Last year he may have been a late first- or second-(round pick) but he moved up to a top-15 pick in a year when he was really injured. I think that is awesome.”

In returning for his senior senior, Payne worked on his outside shot. The 3-pointer became a bigger part of his arsenal. As a freshman, Payne missed his only 3-point attempt of the season. As a sophomore, he was 1-of-2 from long range. He was 16-of-42 as a junior. Last season, Payne made 44 of 104 (.423) 3-point attempts. It took work then, and it will take more work now.

“It has developed over time,” Payne said. “It’s a skill. You have to work on it a lot. … It’s something that I knew I had. It took some time. You miss a lot of shots. You’ve got to get in the gym and keep shooting. You have to have good form and a soft touch. I’m just trying to get better. I knew I had the potential.”

The 3-point shot is important to the Hawks, but Budenholzer said he doesn’t want to dwell on the long-distance attempt. It is part of the offense — even for the bigs — but there is much more to the system. The ability to play inside, pass, move without the ball and play the pick-and-roll and pick-and pop game add to the options of any single offensive possession. Such options are aided with a space floor because of the makeable threat of a 3-point shot.

Horford, who was making strides in his 3-point shot before his season-ending injury last year, and Millsap have those abilities. Budenholzer thinks Payne is similar.

“There are some guys who maybe fit into a narrow description as a stretch four or a shooting four,” Budenholzer said. “I think (Payne) has a lot more to offer and a lot more to give and also have the ability to shoot 3s and spread you out.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. Atlanta. News. Now.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. Atlanta. News. Now.