Portland Trail Blazers guard Gary Payton II has been listed as available for Monday's game against the Detroit Pistons, which will be both his season debut and his Blazers debut. Payton underwent abdominal surgery in the offseason and has been out recovering ever since.
Payton was one of the breakout players of last season as a member of the Golden State Warriors. He won a roster spot over Avery Bradley at training camp and proceeded to carve out a role for himself as a defensive stopper. Payton, the son of 1996 Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton, has always excelled on that end of the floor. But last season, he not only started making 3-pointers, but thrived as a screener and finisher in the pick-and-roll.
Payton ultimately proved critical to Golden State's championship run. When he became a free agent this offseason, the Warriors, who have a historic luxury tax bill, chose not to match the offer made by Portland. That allowed Payton, who had only ever played for the minimum, to ink a three-year, $26 million deal with the Blazers.
Portland has ranked near the bottom of the NBA in defense several years in a row, but the Blazers have been slightly better this season. They rank 23rd in defense as of this writing. That's nothing to write home about, but over the past three seasons, they've never finished better than 27th.
With Payton returning, the Blazers should only continue to improve defensively. This will always be a team that wins by scoring, but Payton should be a helpful step toward the balance they've sought for years.