When Isaiah Taylor initially declared for the 2016 NBA Draft without an agent, there was hope the junior floor general would ultimately return to the Forty Acres. That's not happening, and Shaka Smart is now tasked with replacing Texas' best player from last season at the most pivotal position -- point guard.
Currently, Smart's 2016-17 repertoire will consist of four-star All-American combo guard Andrew Jones and four-star point guard Jacob Young, who will join sophomore Kerwin Roach Jr. in Austin next season -- certainly some quality options and flexibility in dishing out ball handling duties. Obviously, it would take a small miracle for any of the aforementioned to exceed the productivity and efficiency Taylor displayed last season, which are unrealistic expectations.
Due to Taylor playing 30.9 minutes per game last season as the primary ball handler in virtually every second of them, the Longhorns will be void of an experienced chief distributor. Who ultimately assumes that role -- even a portion of it next season -- is anybody's guess, including Smart's. For each, Roach, Jones and Young, there's reason to believe the now-vacant starting job could be theirs for the taking, although all three will assuredly see minutes orchestrating the offense.
Roach may have the early edge, as he has some experience running Smart's offense as a freshman. But due to his role largely being a scoring option on the wing and secondary ball handler, it's completely unclear exactly how productive and efficient he can be when tasked with a much larger role -- Roach has only a 14-percent assist percentage and 3.4 turnovers per 40 minutes. There's no arguing Roach can make plays for himself with the ball, but the key will be who can most effectively put teammates in position to score. That wasn't the case as a freshman, evident in his 2.7 assists per 40 minutes.
Whether he can tighten up his ball-handling and learn how to facilitate an offense as the coach on the court remains to be seen, but the partial experience he had at the position and lack of a solidified top option will assure Roach spends time running the show, even if it's not his primary role.
Much like Roach, Jones is a natural combo guard that displays scoring prowess in a multitude of ways. But of all Texas' options for its future floor general, the All-American Jones may very well be the most explosive scorer of the bunch. Between his ability to get his own points from virtually anywhere on the court and the flashes he had in high school of being able to set teammates up, conversations with Smart indicate Jones will certainly handle the rock often.
"He's going to use me as a combo guard, so most likely I'll be running the point," Jones told Scout.com. "He wants me to be able to just make plays like I do."
At 6'4, 180 pounds and having proven himself as a defender to this point, Jones has ideal size for a modern point guard. Most importantly, the self-proclaimed gym rat has the confidence necessary to step in and reduce the impact of Taylor's absence. In the above interview with Scout, Jones told Evan Daniels he wants to "be able to come into a leadership role with Isaiah leaving," Jones said. "That's a big role for me and I want to be able to come in and step in and take over."
Considering Texas' next point guard(s) -- whomever and however many of them it may be -- will be tasked with replacing a guy that excelled in taking over (see Taylor's efforts against UT-Arlington, Stanford, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Northern Iowa), having the confidence to want to be the guy from day one is essential. That's not a trait that can be taught, either, and if Jones has that rare gene in addition to all his noteworthy talent and work ethic, his just may be the guy to replace Taylor.
But equally as likely, if not more so, to ultimately emerge as the Longhorns' primary ball handler is Young. A crucial trait to possess to become the No. 1 guy for Texas is just that -- ball-handling.
As the only true point guard of the bunch, Young may enter Austin and immediately establish himself as the perfect fit, and in addition to his explosive scoring ability from multiple areas of the court and having proven he can run the show at a high level as he did in high school, the options around him may aid in Young becoming an immediate factor.
Without question, there will be times Young is serving as the point guard, while Roach and Jones run alongside on the wings as scorers with a green light and can still make plays for teammates. If Smart can't find one guy to single-handedly shoulder the load Taylor left behind -- which he won't -- why not often have three guys to collectively contribute to filling the void? You can look forward to it; the Young-Roach-Jones combo will be on the floor together often, providing Texas with capable scorers on the wings and the most adept ball handler and floor general dishing the rock in Young.
But which one will finally emerge as the Texas Longhorns new floor general?
That's a million dollar question we likely won't have answered until a few games into Smart's second season, at the earliest. But if there can't be one answer, why not three? Luckily for Smart, neither of the three are a bad option.