Way back on March 19th, the NBA G League announced that Raptors 905 guard Gary Payton II as their Defensive Player of the Year for the 2021 bubble season. Within their official announcement, the league pointed to the 28-year-old veteran averaging 2.5 steals per game for the league’s best team as the big reasons behind that selection.
Was there any doubt that Payton II did a great job in his role with the Raptors 905 and was an absolute menace on the court? Absolutely not. However, his impact still wasn’t enough to prevent opponents from putting up 113.8 points per 100 possessions against them, which placed 16th in a short season in the Disney World bubble that only included 18 squads. In a season where there was a strong crew of defensive talent that really showed their chops during the season, that significant demerit is enough to not have Payton II as the pick for the award despite his excellent work when it came to forcing turnovers.
Despite the great numbers that players like Gary Payton II or even Paul Reed put up during the run in Disney World, we’re going to take another approach with this award. In a season that was solely held in the state of Florida, it was funny to see that the home base for the league’s defensive king, the Lakeland Magic, was only 23 miles away from where they spent the 2021 season.
Lakeland’s status as the league’s top defensive force was seen from how opposing teams only averaged 100.7 points per 100 possessions against the team. That stands as the lowest opposing points per 100 average since the Santa Cruz Warriors allowed teams to score just 100.3 points per 100 against them back in the 2018-19 season. As we noted in a piece from March, that great defense was a collective effort from everyone that was on Lakeland’s roster. However, that army of magical men had a leader on that end of the ball. His name was Tahjere McCall.
Despite averaging only 1.1 steals per game, which might be enough to make some folks overlook his candidacy for this award, that thought process would be a mistake. As I noted at the end of the previous paragraph, McCall worked as the team’s leader on that end of the ball with how he worked as the first line of defense whenever the opposing team brought the ball up the court. Once that 24 second competition begins, the veteran guard always knew what to do when it came to his task of preventing the other team from putting points on the board.
For example, the guard showcased an incredible capability of using his quick feet, 6’4 frame, ability to know how to use his body to be able to stay in front of his man and push them to take an incredibly difficult shot. As the below compilation shows, McCall made it his mission to make the lives of his opponents a living hell whenever they were put to the unfortunate task of trying to drive to the paint.
Outside of his work as an on-ball penetration defender, the veteran guard has also been more than capable of booking it to the perimeter to closeout on shooters and maneuver around screens to stick in front of his man to prevent them from having an open three or mid-range jumper.
Although him averaging 1.1 steals per game doesn’t exactly jump off the page, there are statistical examples that show the impact that he had on the team. One example of those is shown by how opposing teams were almost three points per 100 possessions worse when he was on the court (98.3 points per 100) compared to when he was on the sidelines (101.1 points per 100). That lower points per 100 average had a lot to do with the veteran’s ability to guard the perimeter pushing opposing teams to shoot just 28% from beyond the arc.
Those numbers mixed with how he was able an incredible job of forcing opposing teams to take rough shots are the reasons why Ridiculous Upside is proud to announce that Lakeland Magic guard Tahjere McCall is our pick for Defensive Player of the Year for the 2021 G League season.