ATLANTA — Adreian Payne has the skills and character that Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry covets in a draft pick.
Payne, a 6-foot-10, 245-pound power forward, impressed Ferry in helping Michigan State advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament last season.
Ferry also appreciated that Payne, who averaged 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds, returned for his senior season and graduated with a degree in interdisciplinary studies.
Those achievements and a recent personal workout for the Hawks convinced Ferry to select Payne with the 15th overall draft pick on Thursday night.
“Playing for a guy like Tom Izzo for four years can be nothing but good,” Ferry said. “He’s a terrific coach and he’s a mentor to the young guys he has. We have a great deal of respect of their program.”
Payne, speaking from the NBA draft in Brooklyn, believes he’s found a solid fit in Atlanta.
“It’s great I’m able to be around some great guys and guys that compete at a high level,” Payne said. “I can look up to them, and they can show me the ropes. I’m just ready to get out there so I can compete.”
The Hawks are coming off a 38-44 season under first-year coach Mike Budenholzer, losing a first-round playoff series in seven games to No. 1 seed Indiana.
Atlanta currently has all five starters – Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll – under contract and five other reserves – Lou Williams, Dennis Schroder, Mike Muscala, John Jenkins and Pero Antic – signed through 2014-15.
Ferry told The Associated Press this week that he hopes to re-sign forward Mike Scott and guard Shelvin Mack as restricted free agents.
“We liked our group last year,” he said. “They fit how we want to continue to play with space and pace and ball movement, but we’re always looking for ways to get better.”
The Hawks plan to be aggressive when free agency begins July 1. Though it’s a stretch that Atlanta could sign a superstar like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, Ferry will have approximately $10 million in salary cap space to improve the roster.
Payne likely will compete for a spot on the second team behind Millsap, an All-Star forward.
“He’s a stretch big,” Ferry said. “He’ll be able to shoot and open up the court for our guards and everybody in general. That obviously is something we value. We like guys that can get up and down (the floor quickly).”
Ferry stopped short of saying that Payne will be expected to contribute immediately, leaving that decision to Budenholzer and his staff.
“That’s something they’ll have to determine on the court, but he is a little older,” Ferry said. “He has gotten the four years of college. Where we drafted him, that may be a good thing. Maybe he was undervalued a little bit for being a little older.
“Sometimes we overvalue the younger guys and overvalue the older guys who have been in college for four years. Hopefully that’s one of those incidences.”
The Hawks also have the 43rd overall draft pick.
Payne is still grieving the death of 8-year-old Lacey Holsworth of St. John’s Mich., a Michigan State fan who died of cancer in early April.
Matt and Heather Holsworth, Lacey’s parents, joined Izzo in standing with Payne as he was introduced at the draft Thursday night. Payne wore a wristband in Lacey’s honor.
“It’s dedicated to Lacey Holsworth – and it’s the color of her cancer that she had, leukemia, and I wear a band every day,” he said. “As you can see, the band is the same color as the suit.”
At an emotional memorial ceremony to celebrate Lacey’s life on April 17, Payne led her family off the covered basketball court at the Breslin Center. About 2,500 people attended the service.
Payne had befriended Lacey during one of her hospital stays.