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Texas Longhorns Basketball: How the Texas Backcourt is Coping without Isaiah Taylor

Looking at the Texas Longhorns without their star point guard.

Javan Felix has played more than originally planned.
Javan Felix has played more than originally planned.
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Several weeks ago, late in a game against Iowa, Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor took a hard foul and went down with a wrist injury. It was a significant setback for the Longhorns, as Taylor was expected to be among the most important players for Rick Barnes' team.

Over the last two weeks, the Longhorns have carried on well without Taylor, going 4-1 over that time, picking up wins against California and UConn. But Texas has not played at as high of a level as it did before losing its star point guard. In particular, the Longhorn offense has not been as effective without Taylor.

Through the early part of the season, the Texas offense has been at its best when Taylor is on the floor. During the 133 possessions where Taylor has played, the Texas offense has scored 1.26 points per possession, compared with the 1.00 points per possession the Longhorns have managed without Taylor in the game.

Digging through the numbers reveals more about how Texas is managing without its sophomore star.

Turnovers are hurting the Texas offense

The table below summarizes in detail what the Texas Longhorns have done when Isaiah Taylor has been on the floor, compared with what they have done when he has been off the floor. When Taylor has played, Texas has shot better, and has taken far better care of the ball.

Some of this difference is due to the more difficult schedule Texas has faced since Taylor's injury, and some is a small sample size fluke. Still, even if the shooting difference is partly a fluke, the turnover problem is real, as Texas has struggled with turnovers against teams both strong (Kentucky) and not so strong (Saint Francis).

I frequently like to use waterfall charts to better understand what a offense's strengths and weaknesses are. Using, I have generated a waterfall chart for the Texas offense when Isaiah Taylor does not play. Waterfall charts compare a team to a hypothetical team that scores 1.04 points per possession by achieving the median in seven different statistical categories. Each step in the waterfall shows how the team is either better or worse in each of the seven categories, and how this difference affects the points scored per possession.

The waterfall chart that describes the Texas offense is shown in the plot below. This chart shows that Texas' below average shooting is hurting the Longhorns, but the biggest problem for the Texas offense without Taylor has been turnovers. Texas' 23 percent turnover rate without Taylor is hurting the Longhorns so much that it is essentially negating the value created by Texas' great offensive rebounding.

In Taylor's absence, ball handling duties have been shared by Texas guards Javan Felix, Demarcus Holland, and Kendall Yancy. Felix has struggled significantly with turnovers, more than doubling his extremely low turnover rate from a season ago. So far this season, Felix has turned the ball over in 29 percent of all possessions that end with the ball in his hands, compared with his much better 13 percent rate last year.

To be frank, Felix has had a terrible start to the 2014-2015 season. Last season he created most of his positive offensive value by protecting the ball and hitting threes. So far this year, in addition to struggling with turnovers, he has only connected on 9-32 three pointers. When Felix is turning the ball over, and isn't hitting threes, he does little to help Rick Barnes' team.

Holland and Yancy have only fared somewhat better than Felix with respect to turnovers. Since picking up some ball handling responsibility in the Saint Francis game, Yancy has turned the ball over multiple times in each game. While Yancy can do a lot of things to help Texas, he doesn't appear to be ready to assume the role of the Longhorns primary ball handler. Holland also has shown some ball security issues, although he did protect the ball well in Texas' most recent game against Kentucky.

Texas' three guard lineup has struggled

If we look at the 390 possessions where Isaiah Taylor hasn't been on the floor this year, 300 of them have used one of four different guard combinations. The results for these four different combinations are shown in the table below; the "Three Guard" lineup refers to when Felix, Holland, and Yancy have all played together.

Texas Point Differential for Different Guard Combinations.

Backcourt Point differential per 100 possessions Points scored per 100 possessions Possessions (offense)
Felix/Holland +13 103 103
Felix/Yancy +29 97 38
Holland/Yancy +15 102 82
Three Guard -3 83 77

Texas' two guard lineups have all performed similarly; while the Felix / Yancy backcourt has the best point differential, this is largely due to some unusually poor opponent shooting during these 38 possessions. With such a small number of possessions, the difference between this combination and the others is probably not worth reading much into.

But the three guard lineup is perhaps a different matter. While it is hard to make predictions on how well a particular player combination is likely to do in the future based on only 77 possessions, it is indisputable that those 77 possessions have not gone well. When Texas has played Felix, Yancy, and Holland together, the Longhorns have managed only an effective field goal percentage of 34 percent, and have turned the ball over in one out of every four possessions.

This result so far suggests that trying to compensate for Taylor's loss by putting an extra ball handler on the floor has not helped the Texas offense.

What is the outlook for Texas without Isaiah Taylor?

The Texas Longhorns are clearly better with Isaiah Taylor than without him. Fancy statistics are not required to notice this. But the good news for Texas is that it now has a string of fairly winnable games to play while Taylor recovers. Taylor is hoping to return around the start of conference play, in early January. Between now and then every Texas game is at home, and most of Texas' remaining non-conference opponents are unlikely to seriously challenge the Horns.

While Texas will have one or two more decent non-conference opponents in Stanford and Long Beach State, the really difficult games start on January 5, when the Longhorns host Oklahoma. If Taylor is not ready to play by then, things could become a bit more difficult.