Whether you're watching him zip down the court like a water bug on skates, listening to him talk about the game and his aspirations within it, or admiring the zip on a no look pass to an open shooter in the corner, the more you see of Isaiah Taylor, the more excited you get about him as a basketball player. And the more you feel this kid's incredible charisma.
You won't find anyone more bullish on the dreaded point guard than I am, and the more I see of of him -- and I've become sort of obsessed, reading everything Taylor-related I can find, talking to Houston hoops-heads, and watching all of his film tapes multiple times -- the more I think Texas landed a player with the potential to be special.
Scouting Isaiah Taylor
Now, it's true that you have to be careful with prospects' highlight films -- particularly when watching a single film in isolation and especially when the film is, in effect, a highlight compilation; everyone looks great when all you see are clips of them making great plays.
But when there's a substantial body of film out there on a kid, and especially when it includes a meaningful amount of unedited game tape that allows you to watch him just play (rather than watch selectively chosen great plays), you can make a pretty solid evaluation of his abilities and get a real sense for what he brings to the floor in a competitive environment. With the sizable collection of clips featuring Isaiah Taylor on YouTube, and thanks especially to some friends in the Houston hoops scene who sent me several additional hours of unedited game tape, all of which I've now watched/ogled multiple times), I've managed to spend a lot of time watching Mr. Taylor play basketball -- more so than any other high school hoops prospect I've scouted.
I've already made clear that I absolutely love the kid. But now let me tell you why.
The Drive To Succeed
You don't hear scouts talk as much about a basketball prospect's "makeup" as you do in reports about a baseball player. (For some helpful background on the concept of "makeup," the Penn League Report has a worthwhile primer that I recommend.) In large part that's because at the highest level of basketball exceptional makeup and $100 will get you a ticket into the Staples Center but without the exceptional physical/athletic abilities required of NBA players, that's as close as you'll ever get to the Lakers bench.
But that's not to say that a player's mental capacity and temperament don't matter in basketball, and particularly at the collegiate level the impact can be substantial. Take some recent Texas players, for example. Exhibit A, at one end of the spectrum: Sheldon McClellan, whose questionable makeup was in the spotlight this season upon being asked to become an alpha leader of a young team. Exhibit B, all the way on the other end of the spectrum: TJ Ford, a kid with makeup off the charts who coached Rick Barnes as much as Rick Barnes coached him. And Exhibit C, somewhere in between the the two: J'Covan Brown, whose makeup was excellent in several critical regards (J'Onions loved crunch time and was J'Crafty as hell), but held him back in others (J'Pouting got him into trouble at various times).
Which brings us, finally, back to Isaiah Taylor...
The above quote is from an interview Taylor gave in August of last year. No need to ask: yes, it left me drooling. Heavily.
There are a couple things about Isaiah Taylor's makeup that in my mind make him especially enticing. To begin with, Taylor originally hails from Oakland, and when he wasn't garnering the recruiting attention he wanted playing in the Bay Area's AAU circuit, he didn't sit around and pout while blaming others when he wasn't getting what he wanted. He did something about it.
Just prior to Taylor's junior year of high school, he packed his bags and moved to a better basketball scene, vowing to make a splash -- and a name for himself -- in Houston. To move across the country before your junior year, without a single scholarship offer, convinced you can and will break through in a basketball scene where you are a complete unknown commodity, takes an absurd amount of confidence, determination, and competitive drive.
But that's exactly what Taylor did, catching the attention of John Lucas at the former pro's basketball camp, which helped him land an invite to switch to Houston's elite AAU squad Texas PRO, of which former Horns Jai Lucas and Gary Johnson are alumni. Taylor immediately began turning heads and generating buzz among Houston basketball observers, who simultaneously turned to each other and asked, "Who is this kid?" Less than a year after he arrived in Houston, Taylor found himself surrounded by suitors, drawing offers from Texas, Florida State, Illinois, LSU, Penn State, George Mason, and Larry Brown at SMU, to name just a few.
Rick Barnes and Rob Lanier turned on the full court press with Taylor's recruitment, establishing a strong relationship with his parents and soliciting friendly voices in Houston's hoops scene to pitch Texas. And by the grace of God, Taylor took his unofficial visit to Texas on December 19th, spending the evening watching the Longhorns run North Carolina out of the Erwin Center. Shortly thereafter, Taylor pledged to become the first member of Texas' 2013 recruiting class.
The same determination and competitive drive that led Taylor to go from a no-name, no-offers sophomore in Oakland to a hotly pursued senior in Houston fuels his game on the court, as well. When it comes to describing Taylor's game as a point guard, the quote I highlighted above says it all: I'm going to attack the hell out of you in the half court, in the full court -- pretty much any time I've got the ball in my hands -- because I know you can't stay in front of me.
Taylor is skilled and athletic, but the reason I have such high hopes for him (and think he's underrated as a prospect) is related to how utterly fearless and relentless he is. The kid is confident and charismatic in many of the same ways as was Texas' last point guard from Houston, TJ Ford. Yes, I just went there, and while no, Taylor isn't the high-elite prospect that Ford was, in terms of potential impact on the team, Taylor is a lot closer than you might think.
Beyond the exceptional makeup, Taylor is exceptionally quick, with very good handles and control in tight spaces. Interestingly, Taylor doesn't look super smooth like many lightning quick players do; you'll often see an almost violent suddenness in his motions, as Taylor darts this way and that, often featuring hard starts and stops with and sharp changes of direction.
It sometimes looks a little bit choppy, but frankly, it often seems to contribute to Taylor's effectiveness. He identifies where he wants to take the ball and he goes there, decisively, and is not deterred by a defender. Players aren't used to being attacked that way, and Taylor capitalizes on that advantage as well as any young point guard that I've seen. He plays with an attitude that the aggressor has the advantage, and he's right. A defender who's back pedaling isn't going to be able to stop him from going to the basket. So Taylor goes to the basket.
At 6-2, Taylor has nice height for the position, with a great body frame for the strength he's going to need to add. His quickness is just one feature of his strong athletic profile, and though not as explosive as Croaker or Yancy-Harris, Taylor can absolutely get up and finish above the rim.
How much and how quickly Taylor is able to contribute as a freshman probably depends, first, on whether his lack of body strength allows collegiate defenders to slow him down and limit his effectiveness as a penetrator, and second, on his ability to make defenses pay for defending him like Dogus. Whether he's able to punish the defense by hitting jump shots, or by effectively attacking a sagging defense to get teammates great looks or himself a trip to the free throw line, his value as a freshman is going to be tied to his ability to do one or the other.
Not known as a great shooter, Taylor shouldn't be confused with his Turkish predecessor, who literally looked like he'd never shot a basketball in his life prior to his arrival in Austin. Taylor is a much better shooter than Dogus, much more comparable to TJ Ford, who wasn't a strong shooter but was far from impotent. When he's got his feet set, Taylor shoots the ball plenty well, but as is the case with many kids at this level he struggles when shooting off the bounce.
Encouragingly, Taylor's ability to score in the paint looks above average for a point guard. There's no question that Taylor is a pass-first point guard, but he's a crafty scorer with the ability to score with either hand around the rim, and a floater that he shoots with great touch. It will be interesting to see how developed an understanding and ability Taylor demonstrates as a freshman in terms of knowing how to use positioning and his quickness to draw whistles and earn trips to the free throw line.
Taylor's abilities as a dribbler and passer are excellent, but I see some things he's going to have to tighten up at the collegiate level. Starting with the strengths, he's got extremely quick feet, great agility, and terrific vision and feel. He knows where to go, is able to get there, and can execute the right play once he does. His handles are very good, but not at the level of TJ Ford, and I'm a bit concerned about Taylor struggling with turnovers to the point where he either cancels out his positive value or retreats to a more passive style of play that doesn't enable him to contribute the maximum potential value. Part of that concern is that Taylor plays too upright, and that's something he's immediately going to learn he must improve to be as effective as he wants to be against bigger, faster, and stronger competition.
He Got Game
I'm sure there are skeptics who find themselves wanting to ask whether I'm making too much of a kid who the recruiting services all rate as a three-star prospect. It's a fair question. To which my response is simply this:
Fans constantly clamor for a sophisticated, well-executed halfcourt offense, but at the collegiate level what you really want and need is to be a dynamic open floor team, ideally led by a pass-first point guard who thrives in transition. Like, say, Brett Comer, a two-star prospect on Austin Rivers' Winter Park team who wasn't recruited outside of Florida at all in 2011 but as a sophomore this season was 2nd nationally with a ridiculous 45.0 assist rate.
That's what this is all about -- the reason for the optimism and excitement about Taylor. Texas' best team ever was led by a dynamic, lightning quick point guard who was equally charismatic and fearless. And like most every collegiate team, our offense struggles mightily without a playmaker at point guard and limited ability to score in transition.
Dynamic point guards with charisma, competitive drive, and a fearless attitude are extraordinarily valuable. And at the collegiate level, they needn't be as freaky as TJ Ford to have a similarly substantial impact.
That's why I've bought in so heavily on Isaiah Taylor. Take a look for yourself and see what you think...
Isaiah Taylor Porn