Gary Payton II

GP2 describes similarities, differences of playing with Steph, Dame

NBC Universal, Inc.

SAN FRANCISCO – Practice is the fun part for Gary Payton II. Like his father once did for the now-defunct Seattle Supersonics, Payton has locked up some of the NBA’s best scorers the past few seasons in a Warriors jersey.

But as if a greyhound is tracking a rabbit bouncing all around the court, nothing compares to chasing Steph Curry. Nothing. Is he the biggest? No. Is he the fastest? No. Is he the most frustrating player to guard in basketball? Find someone who says no.

Payton certainly knows that reality. Every home game is a chance for Curry to put on a show in front of Dub Nation at Chase Center. The real fireworks might be on the practice court when these two go against each other.

Countless players have fallen to Curry’s powers. Payton is part of that list, though he wants the world to know Curry has been on the other side of that equation, too.

“Ask 30 about all that,” Payton said to NBC Sports Bay Area on the latest “Dubs Talk” episode. “He's for sure won battles, for sure. But I've got a couple in there, too.”

Payton hasn’t just been teammates with the Splash Brothers, Curry and Klay Thompson, but also another of basketball’s most deadly from long distance. Before the Warriors brought Payton back at last year’s trade deadline, he spent six months wearing Portland Trail Blazers colors as Damian Lillard’s teammate.

Their time together in Portland was short-lived. Payton underwent core muscle surgery two months after signing a three-year contract to move up north and lingering injury issues held him to only 15 games as a Blazer. In Payton’s last game with his former team, Lillard put up a 33-point, 11-assist, 10-rebound triple-double in a 125-122 Blazers win … against the Warriors.

Payton was sent home to San Francisco the next day.

Even in half a year's time, Payton bore witness to all the similarities between Curry and Lillard, as well as their differences, both as players and teammates.

“30 just doesn't stop moving,” Payton said. “He just, he has a motor. He knows he's in a system where he passes it, he gets off and guys are looking for him. Dame had a younger core [in Portland]. He shoots it from a long range and his motor's ridiculous. Both of them are great teammates. They lead.

"Dame leads, he leads by example. Steph, Steph does too. But Steph is a little vocal. He'll let you know what he likes, what he doesn't like and stuff like that. But Dame, Dame leads by example. He'll go out there and leave it on the floor. If they're both healthy, they're both playing. They don't like to miss games, they like to be out there with their team and get it done.

"So being able to have both of those experiences I think just helped me, my game, for sure on the defensive side. For sure.”

Imagine the luxury of going from guarding Curry in practice to doing so against Lillard, and then going back to following Curry’s every move. What’s demoralizing for opponents is an opportunity for those on the same team as Steph and Dame on the practice court, especially a defensive menace such as Payton.

Curry is the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers at 3,499 and counting, ending the debate of basketball’s greatest shooter long ago. Lillard now is fifth all time with 2,451, and more to come – giving him the third-most 3s among active players behind only Curry and James Harden.

While the Warriors superstar forever altered how basketball will be played, like Curry, Lillard also can unleash a long ball from the logo. But Curry, he makes the court his own personal track, giving his defender a little extra cardio for the night.

How discouraging is that as a defender? A clip of Payton and Jonathan Kuminga sharing their anger in guarding Curry during practice went viral in October, showing how much of a pain Curry must be for every other team on defense.

“It’s annoying guarding him, bro,” Payton says to Kuminga. “Annoying, because you can’t rest! Because soon as you rest, he’s open and it’s bad.”

And Payton doesn’t hide behind those same sentiments today.

“Me and JK was talking just like, 'We want to stay in our scheme for the team, for the team defense, but if he shoots the ball it's a 98 percent chance it's gonna go in,’” Payton said.

“So usually when we play against him, I tell everybody like, 'I'm not helping, because I know him and I know if he gets off it he's still dangerous,' because the guy's looking for a pindown and whatnot. But he doesn't stop moving.”

What Payton also went on to say later in the clip gives a better understanding of Curry’s uniqueness in an age of false imitators. “You see the ball, but you can’t take it,” Kuminga says. Payton responds, “Yeah, because he baiting you like this [dropping a ball in front of him], yeah go ahead, reach for it – so he can drag your ass. It’s just so effortless.”

Maybe it’s not so much a track that Curry transforms every court into. Maybe in another world he’s in a Warriors kit, not a jersey, racing down the pitch. Payton knows the similarities between Curry and Lillard firsthand, and the differences as well. In Steph though, Payton sees basketball’s Lionel Messi.

“He reads a defense,” Payton said to NBC Sports Bay Area. “He's kind of like Messi.”

They bob, they weave, slicing through a defense a select few ever have in any sport, unloading from distances only they can dare try. Curry and Messi, always making us rethink how we look at their respective sports.

“Messi walks around on the pitch for a good couple minutes,” Payton continued. “He observes the field, you know, sees where all the weaknesses are and then he'll start picking it up. Once he starts running, that means he's found something and he's going. That's just like 30. With the great ones like that, you know, their mind works differently and they see things that, you know, normal guys don't see.”

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