With confidence and swagger, guard Cam Payne making a bid for role in rebuild

Cam Payne generally is dismissed as a factor in the Bulls’ rebuild. He struggled for playing time with Rajon Rondo around last year after being acquired from the Thunder in the Taj Gibson trade. Then he got hurt. Then he got hurt again. And even in a better situation this season, he’s a facilitator on a developing team that has been out of sync most of the season because of various lineup changes.

But in back-to-back games over the weekend, Payne showed indications he might be more than a fringe player. Payne scored 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting in a loss to the Pistons. And he helped spark a rally from an early deficit to victory over the Hawks on Sunday — seven points, four assists, two steals and no turnovers in 17 minutes. He had a team-high plus-24 differential.

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“Atlanta … he made the right play. He was throwing ahead. He was getting into the paint,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “In the Detroit game he was knocking down shots. He’s playing with a confidence and a swagger that we haven’t seen out of Cam. And a lot of that is he’s getting in shape and his timing is back.

Bulls guard Cam Payne scored 10 points with three assists and two steals in the first half against the Clippers on Tuesday night. | Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

“I really like what I’ve seen out of Cam these last couple of weeks. Just to see him with a little bounce in his step, it’s been fun. Hopefully he can keep growing and getting better and finish strong.”

Payne continued his strong play against the Clippers on Tuesday night, with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting, three assists and two steals in 11 minutes.

Familiarity has been a big factor in his improvement.

“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s a totally different team [this season]. I’ve been with these guys all year, plus the summer. I know these guys, way better than I knew the team when I first came. I’ve been watching them all season — even not being able to play — so I know a lot of the guys’ tendencies and where they like the ball.”

Payne acknowledged he’s “uncomfortable” being considered an after-thought in the rebuild. “But I use it mostly for motivation,” he said. “It’s been like this since I was young — no one really gave me the opportunity. The fact that I’m not the people’s choice is fine. I’m just out here to get wins — that’s it.”

Beverley missed

Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, the pride of Marshall High School, is out for the season after suffering a knee injury on Nov. 20.

“I love him,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers, the Proviso East product said. “ I thought defensively at the end of a game, you put Avery [Bradley] and Patrick Beverley on the floor at the same time, there was either going to be stops or a fight. I just like him. I like who he is. I like him around our team.”

Nearly a Demon

Rivers never played in Chicago — the Bulls took Sidney Lowe 25th overall in the 1983 draft; Rivers went 31st the Hawks — but he did nearly go to DePaul as an All-American high school player, when DePaul was at the top of the college basketball world with Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings.

“That would have been too close to home, as much as I liked the school,” Rivers said. “I needed to go to school — with all my friends in the neighborhood, I don’t think that would have gone well.”

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Email: mpotash@suntimes.com