Gary Payton II - Raptors 905
2.5 steals per game
Opponent On/Off Per 100 Possessions. On: 110.7 points per 100 Off: 106.3 points per 100
From the looks of that on/off ratio and how the 905 finished 14th out of the 18 G League teams in the bubble in defense, it might not make sense to see Gary Payton II as one of the finalists for G League Defensive Player of the Year. However, his impact went beyond those two statistics as his work as a ballhawk, whether that was going into the passing lanes or using his quick hands to punch the ball loose on drivers or guys working on the perimeter.
His impact was prevalent as opposing teams committed 17.4 turnovers per 100 possessions against the 905, which placed them 4th in the NBA G League. Payton II’s impact on that is simply seen from how opposing teams committed nearly four more turnovers per 100 when he was on the court (19.5 turnovers per 100) compared to when he was sitting on the bench (15.8 turnovers per 100). That ability both gave the 905 an opportunity to get some easy points in transition while also cutting down on the chances that the team had to score.
So despite the numbers that you see above me, Payton II’s impact with helping create opposing turnovers were a factor behind the 905 possessing a phenomenal +10 net rating and finishing the regular season with a 12-3 record.
Tahjere McCall - Lakeland Magic
1.1 steals per game
Opponent On/Off Per 100 Possessions: On: 98.3 points per 100. Off: 101.1 points per 100
If there was one player in the G League where you’d have to watch him play to truly understand how important he is to a team, that guy would be Tahjere McCall. Besides having great rebounding numbers for a 6’4 guard, as he averaged 7.4 rebounds per game during his run with Lakeland, the veteran has never scored more than 12.6 points, 4.6 assists, or 1.7 steals during his career in the G League. Despite that, the Tennessee State alum has been an integral part of two teams that have made the G League Finals, the 2019 Long Island Nets and 2021 Lakeland Magic, the last of which went on to become champions.
The reasoning behind him being an important part of great teams despite not being a stat stuffer is simply through how fantastic he is on the defensive end. He’s truly a high IQ defender that does a great job of quickly figuring whether to move over or under screens, which allows him to stay on his man. Along with being a great horizontal defender, he can also move his feet up and down to stay with his man when they’re driving to the paint.
One underrated skill that McCall possesses is that he does a nice job of guiding his man to the waiting arms of his team’s rim protectors. That skill is both an integral part of being a team defender and obviously is something that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet as steals and blocks are the only quantifier when it comes to individual defense.
Despite his low steal numbers, McCall is a finalist for this award due the impact that he had for a Lakeland Magic team that finished as the best defense in the G League.
Paul Reed - Delaware Blue Coats
1.8 blocks and 1.9 steals per game
Opponent O/Off Per 100 Possessions: On: 108.7 points per 100. Off: 104.1 points per 100
While McCall has stood as a player whose impact is not fully seen in box scores, Reed was a prospect whose numbers can just pop from your screens. Back in our list of finalists for Rookie of the Year, we went over his incredible offensive numbers, as he was able to combine volume with jaw-dropping efficiency. That same incredible nature is also seen on the defensive end as the Sixers prospect joined stellar G League veteran Sir’Dominic Pointer as the only players in the G League to average more than 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game.
Those great numbers help point to the fact that Reed stood out as a versatile defender that was able to use his quick feet and 6’9, 220 pound frame to make an impact both on the perimeter and inside the paint. A visual example of that fact is evident in the clip below that shows Reed doing a great job of switching onto talented guards Cassius Winston and David Stockton and sticking to them from perimeter to paint while also holding his own inside against fellow NBA bigs Tyler Cook and Moses Brown.
A mixture of Reed’s clear versatility as a defender and tremendous numbers are the two biggest reasons behind his inclusion on this list of finalists for Defensive Player of the Year.
Ahmad Caver - Memphis Hustle
1.9 steals per game
Opponent On/Off Per 100 Possessions: On: 98.6 points per 100. Off: 108.9 points per 100
For the second time, Ahmad Caver appears as a finalist for one of our G League awards. His first appearance, as a nominee for Most Improved Player of the Year was due to his improvement on the offensive end as his points per game average (10 PPG in 2019-20 to 16.5 PPG in 2021) and efficiency (49% eFG% in 2019-20 and 57% eFG% in 2021) grew tremendously from one year to another. Although he evolved into being one of the better offensive guards in the G League, his status as a great defender was able to persist during his second year as a pro.
Dating back to his time in college with Old Dominion, Caver’s excellence on the defensive end has come through a mixture of tenacity and having a nose for the ball. That combination is evident when he’s on the perimeter defending his man, as he has quick enough hands to push the ball loose in a blink of an eye. In addition to that, the 6’2 guard knows the moments where he needs to work off-ball and work in the passing lanes to intercept the feed like Xavien Howard of the Miami Dolphins. That ability, along with his ability to stick on on-ball drivers like velcro has allowed him to be a premier defender since he was in college.
Along with making it a lot more difficult for opposing players to score, Caver’s defensive tactics also gives opposing teams less opportunities to score. That fact is evident from how opposing squads had 80.3 field goal attempts per 100 possessions when he was on the court compared to 86.8 field goal attempts per 100 when he was sitting on the sidelines. Those factors are why Caver stands out as one of our finalists for Defensive Player of the Year.