Elfrid Payton Shines in Suns Debut

by Cody Cunningham

The Suns traded for Elfrid Payton on Thursday, he landed in Phoenix late on Friday and by Saturday night he was suiting-up for his Suns debut.

With Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis both out with injury, Payton was placed into the starting lineup without a single practice. However, this didn’t seem to phase the 23-year-old.

“He is a smart player,” Dragan Bender said about his new teammate. “He knows how to play basketball. His IQ is high. His head is always up. His appearance on the court, he understands the game, just trying to find mismatches on the court.”

Payton showed off his basketball IQ as he worked with what he knew of the playbook and finished with 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds in his first game as a Sun. 

Highlights: Elfrid Payton Debut vs Nuggets

“I thought he was good,” Head Coach Jay Triano said. “It was different, the pace of play was better, getting the ball up and down the court, getting into the lane when he needed to, and making passes. He made the guys on the floor with him better.”

His defensive potential was on display as he showed off his ball skills on both ends of the court against the Nuggets.

“His defensive intensity was amazing,” Josh Jackson said. “He pressured the ball really well, had a lot of beautiful passes. He was just really good out there today.”

Suns vs Nuggets Postgame: Elfrid Payton

Payton was not the only Sun to put up a solid performance on Saturday night as his best friend T.J. Warren scored a game-high 31 points to go along with his five rebounds.

“Super fun, super fun,” Payton on playing with Warren. “Especially, watching him have another good game and the things that he is capable of.”

Dragan Bender had possibly his best performance of his career as he notched a career-high 23 points to go along with eight rebounds and four assists. The second-year big man fought in the paint all night against Denver’s Nikola Jokic. 

“I like the way he battled,” Triano said. “When he’s at the five, like he was tonight, he’s got to battle and not give in. I thought, for the most part, he did a pretty good job on that. And then, at the other end, we’re trying to drag the big away." 

Now we can’t forget about the birthday boy either as Josh Jackson had 23 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four blocks as the rookie celebrated his 21st birthday. He became the first rookie since Anthony Davis with 20-plus points and four-plus rebounds, assists and blocks. 

Bender, Jackson, Payton and Warren combined to score 93 points while all four of them shot over 50 percent from the field. Unfortunately, the Suns woes would start at the free throw line as the team shot just 56 percent from the charity stripe. They fell to the Nuggets 123-113.

Payton will luckily be able to get a practice in before the team travels to the Bay Area to face the Golden State Warriors on Monday. Catch the action on Fox Sports Arizona.