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As GP2 keeps expanding his game, Kerr must find him minutes originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Entering Thursday night’s game without three of their wing players, the Warriors were in search mode for who would give them the extra boost of scoring. 

Sure, they have Steph Curry and anytime he goes off (he finished with 46 points), Golden State has a chance to win. But who would be his primary helper and the team’s secondary scorer against the Memphis Grizzlies?

There were a few names that came to mind immediately. Maybe Ottor Porter Jr., who got the starting nod. Or Nemanja Bjelica. Jonathan Kuminga could go off again. All three of them helped, but it was an unlikely name who really stepped up: Gary Payton II.

Payton — who started in place of Poole — finished with a season-high 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting, including 4-of-7 from three, in the Warriors’ 113-104 win.

“He’s fearless and he’s finally getting a real chance to play big minutes on a good team,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Thursday night. “He’s the kind of guy who’s gonna seize this opportunity and make the most of everything. He’s fun to watch.”

Kerr headed into this season ready to find more playing time for Payton. Kerr wanted to play him more last season but didn’t have the right pieces to complement the 6-foot-3 guard who thrives in the dunker spot. 

With this year’s roster featuring multiple big men who can stretch the floor, Kerr knew Payton would get better opportunities, and he figured Payton would take advantage of them. 

But he didn’t expect the kind of two-way performances Payton has been putting up lately. 

“We knew he would play a role,” Kerr said. “We really liked him a year ago and all summer and we knew we needed a defensive-minded guard to complement the rest of the roster. We expected him to help us win games, but a game like this, 4-for-7 from 3 and 22 points, I didn’t expect that.”

Payton’s shot didn’t improve by coincidence. He spent all summer working on his shooting mechanics, getting to a point where he was comfortable and confident letting it fly — look no further than his go-ahead corner 3 against the Grizzlies with just over a minute remaining. 

“Coach just tells me to shoot them, so I shoot them,” Payton said. “He says don’t worry about it, just before the break for sure, especially if I get it, let it go. No thinking, just let it go.”

As Kerr alluded to, the plan was to use Payton as a defensive specialist. It’s what earned him the 15th roster spot on the team, and any offense he could provide would just be icing on the cake. It’s his defense that initially made Kerr say he needs to find more minutes for Payton and then decided to start him against the Grizzlies, so he could start out defending Ja Morant. 

Early into the season, it became clear that one of Payton’s biggest offensive tools was how he thrives as a dunker and as a lob threat. And as Kerr said, playing alongside Bjelica and Porter as 3-point shooters allowed the Warriors to adopt this backward way of playing. Payton’s ability to jump over bigger defenders and throw down dunks was the next piece of evidence Kerr saw that suggested, again, that he needed to find more minutes for Payton. 

Then, Payton’s 3-point shot started falling, making his game a true two-way threat. 

RELATED: Steph busts out of slump, carries Warriors to rousing victory

Payton’s performance against the Grizzlies proved that the Warriors should have a chance to stay afloat while they wait for Jordan Poole, Andrew Wiggins and Damion Lee to return from health and safety protocols. 

But it also proved that Kerr is dead-on: He needs to keep finding more minutes for Payton. And that remains the case even after the Warriors’ roster is fully healthy. 

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