ORLANDO — For most of the Thunder’s playoff run to the Western Conference finals last season, Cameron Payne’s highest profile role was as partner for Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the starters in regular pre-game dance routines as the lineups were announced.
But in the opener of the Orlando Pro Summer League on Saturday, Payne was in the spotlight for more than just fancy footwork, sinking in a 3-pointer from the left wing with 3.6 seconds left in the game to give OKC an 86-85 win over Dallas.
In 31 minutes, Payne shot 6-for-14 and finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
“I haven’t done that, played so many minutes, in a long time,” Payne said. “It just feels good to get out there and play.”
The No. 14 pick in the 2015 draft, Payne missed the summer league a year ago due a fractured right hand and had to hit his rookie season on the run.
“I definitely wanted to play last year,” Payne said. “But I’m a lot more prepared. I know how the game works. I know how the game goes in the NBA.”
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged five points, 1.9 assists and 1.5 rebounds while playing 12.2 minutes per game for the Thunder.
He played often Saturday in tandem with fellow point guard Semaj Christon, spending time off the ball, which will obviously be a necessity to get more minutes in an OKC lineup with Westbrook.
“That (point) role for the Oklahoma City Thunder is a short role if you can’t play off the ball a little bit too,” said Thunder summer league coach Mark Daigneault, who also coaches the OKC D-League team. “That’s something that we’ve talked to him about. It’s definitely something that translates.”
In addition to continue adding weight and muscle to his slender frame, the Thunder have set goals for the summer league.
“Getting to the paint. Being athletic,” Payne said. “I feel like I do a pretty good job getting my teammates involved. I need to do better just seeing the floor. The main thing is I got to be able to play defense. I’m the nose of the defense, so I’ve got to be out there talking and playing physical. I also need to be vocal. I need to be a leader on and off the court.”
Much of Payne’s progress has come from simply being around the All-Star Westbrook and learning by watching and playing against him in practice.
“Choose when to do and when not to do things,” Payne said. “Like when to go, how to manage the game, how to read the shot clock, the game clock. It’s even knowing the foul count, knowing that you can get a little easy, quick foul to get you to the line. It’s all those little things that he’s helped me with.”