Is Trey McGowens a good defender? YES! He’s averaging nearly TWO steals per game (creative rounding), and he leads the ACC in steal percentage (4.1%). Last season, he finished in the top-10 in the conference in steals, steals per game, steal percentage and defensive win shares last year. Currently, he’s trending to finish in the top-10 in those first three categories as a sophomore. Here’s how that’s come to pass.
Exhibit A (from last year):
McGowens is an absolutely terror for teams when applying full court or three-quarter court pressure, especially after an inbounds. He’s a ball hawk with elite timing and instincts able to square up for easy pokes with quick twitch to avoid collisions most of the time. Dominant hand, off-hand, doesn’t matter. Your first move better be a good one because he preys upon any flaw or laziness in any attempt to change hands.
A player this good in open space, that doesn’t need to force his man to the sidelines, isn’t common. Of course being an extremely gifted collegiate athlete with good size and length for his position helps, but not every player applies it the way McGowens does.
Exhibit B & C (from this year):
Having your drive cutoff and hastily tossing the ball back to the man McGowens is guarding is a big no-no. He corrals or deflects any straight line toss back to his man. This is doubly painful for the opposition as McGowens often gets himself going offensively after a defensive play that leads to a transition basket, dunk and/or foul.
Per Clip 2 above, McGowens plays passing lanes very well. The eyes of opposing players betray them on lazy passes, especially anything that bounces. His length allows him to get a hand in the lane while maintaining a recoverable posture if he’s unable to get a hand on the ball.
In everything that McGowens is doing above, there’s a level of desire to it that’s unteachable. You either have the mentality to defend or you don’t.
So why the title? Isn’t this version of McGowens the only evidence we need to deem him a good, no, great defender? In those particular areas - ball pressure in open space and playing passing lanes - he’s great and you can find similar clips in virtually every game he’s played in. You’ll also come across something else in virtually every game.
About that second clip. That was just an aberration right? Obviously, I am just picking and choosing the clips I want to show to prove my point. Fair enough.
Still don’t believe me?
Let’s do one more.
At the moment, for every one or two pickpocket swipes that gets McGowens and his team in transition, there’s a half dozen or so half court possessions where his gambling leads to unfavorable numbers and a player getting a free run at the rim. Biting on moves happens, and squaring up to take a charge isn’t anything to frown at. Taking yourself completely out of a play that often is another story.
The team can live with the gambling. Head coach Jeff Capel isn’t about to tell McGowens to tone it down. In fact, he’s molded some of their defensive philosophy around it.
But McGowens gets crushed on screens, on ball and off ball. Plain and simple. Communication isn’t consistent, sometimes nonexistent. Gambling to shoot passing lanes isn’t always conducive of getting skinny and fighting over screens
Also, gambling while applying ball pressure at full court gives your defense an extra second or two to react. Chances are the ball handler (at the collegiate level) has his head down concentrating on keeping his dribble, especially given the amount of pressure McGowens can apply. Often times, the other four players are so far up the court, there isn’t even a reasonable outlet.
Gambling in the half court closely resembles a layup line to a lot of players. This comes down to discipline. There’s times when gambling isn’t as detrimental and there’s times when you need to fight over a screen in an effort to keep your man in front so he doesn’t have a free run at the rim. The issue with McGowens is that it’s almost always the former.
Is McGowens a great defender? In some ways, absolutely. But in order for him to become a complete defender he must become more disciplined in the half court.