Title: Gary Payton II, the G League’s leader in steals, teaches us the art of the steal
Date: March 5, 2021
Original Source: The Athletic
Synopsis: In my latest for The Athletic Toronto, I dove into the art of the steal with Gary Payton II, the G League’s most prolific ball thief.
Gary Payton II is pushing back on the term “gamble.”
We are half an hour into a Zoom discussion about Payton’s preternatural ability to come up with steals. In the days before T.J. McConnell posted an outlandish points-assists-steals triple-double for the Indiana Pacers, Payton twice tied the Raptors 905 franchise record with seven steals in a game. He has (lightly) threatened a quadruple-double a number of times in this year’s G League bubble season, leading the league in steals and rocketing up the all-time leaderboards in just about every steal-based metric.
Early in our conversation, Payton chalks his proclivity for the steal up to “a lot of gambling, actually.” After we’ve run through a dozen examples, he has shifted from “gamble” to “read” to describe the snap decisions he has to make jumping passing lanes, reaching in at a ball-handler or digging down on a big man.
“That’s just a read on me,” Payton says of a steal against G League MVP candidate Kevin Porter Jr. In that example, Porter is trapped and tries to throw a skip pass to the weak side, and Payton jumps the route in a way that leaves the paint unprotected if he misses. It’s high-risk if Payton isn’t certain his quick reaction time, 6-foot-8 wingspan and centre-sized hands will be able to make the play.