From a production standpoint, Jeff Taylor
isn't having the breakout season many expected from him in this, his junior year. His scoring rate has fallen slightly, his field goal percentage is down nearly 5%, he's rebounding worse (offensively) and he's getting to the free throw line much less frequently than he has in the past.
From an NBA standpoint, though, Taylor's prospects have never looked rosier.
Taylor's rising draft stock is attributable to one development in particular: the discovery of a jump shot. He was just 1-for-11 from beyond the arc as a sophomore, but Taylor has knocked down a solid 35% of the 113 3-pointers he's taken as a junior, demonstrating a serious learning curve and leaving plenty of room for optimism when analyzing his excellent shooting mechanics.
Taylor has always been one of the most athletic players in college basketball. He's spectacular in transition, a product of his excellent speed in the open floor and his highlight reel-caliber explosiveness. He has great size at 6-7 and an outstanding frame, showing the strength and toughness to finish through contact in difficult situations.
He still lacks polish offensivelyhis touch is just average and his overall scoring instincts leave something to be desired, particularly as a shot-creatorbut Taylor has redeeming characteristics in other areas, which is enough to lead us to believe that he has what it takes to hold his own on the offensive end in the NBA.
Taylor has a rare blend of prototypical physical tools, excellent toughness and a very good feel for the game. He shows all the characteristics the NBA looks for in a complimentary wing player (a la Raja Bell
or Thabo Sefolosha
), but he is a far more explosive .
Converting on 35 of the 98 jump shots he's taken this season (36%) with his feet set, Taylor can space the floor in a semi-credible manner, and looks comfortable playing a role. He's a very good passer and has potential as a post-up threat (something Vanderbilt surprisingly does not take advantage of very often). He also scores within the flow of his team's offense--be it in transition or in half-court sets, usually above the rim.
Where Taylor gets in trouble when he's asked to do more than that, thoughsomething that happens fairly often in Vanderbilt's stagnant offense. None of the other players on his team can create their own shot effectively, which puts a lot of pressure on Taylor (Vandy's best athlete) to make things happen on a regular basis, which is clearly not his game.
Taylor can beat his man off the dribble (he has an excellent first step), but he is not a very dynamic ball-handler at this point in time--he lacks the ability to change speeds or direction with the ball. He elevates nicely on shots in the mid-range but converts just 33% of his off-the-dribble attempts. Then again, that's a shot he'll rarely be asked to take at the next level.
Playing alongside better guards who can regularly create good looks for him, it's not a stretch to say that Taylor will become a more efficient offensive player in the NBA.
With that said, defense is clearly the most interesting aspect of Taylor's professional profile.
He is a rare case defensively in that he has ideal physical attributes for an NBA swingman (excellent size, mature frame, solid length, outstanding athleticism) as well as excellent fundamentals both on and off the ball and a willingness to stop his man on every possession.
He slides his feet extremely well on the perimeter, gets low in his stance and shows the toughness to stick his nose in and make a gritty play. He denies slashing angles with his sheer strength, uses his wingspan effectively to contest shots and switches onto multiple positions if called uponTaylor is asked to guard everything from point guards to power forwards on a given night for Vanderbilt.
Despite all this, there is surprisingly little buzz about Taylor's draft prospects at the moment. This is likely a product of his underwhelming scoring average (14.7 points per game), the general undervaluation of defensive stoppers, and the fact that his team was just 9-7 in the SEC.
Taylor turns 22 this May. It seems likely he will at least explore the option of entering the NBA next season, which would give him the ability to attend private workouts and collect precise feedback about his professional outlook. It will be interesting to see what scouts have to say.
Even though Taylor might not have the same offensive upside as some of the other wings in this draft, it's tough to see many prospects projecting better as role players. Will NBA teams agree with that assessment? We'll find out soon enough.