Texas’ point guard Isaiah Taylor became the biggest surprise on a Longhorns’ team that turned out to be a surprise themselves after finishing with a 24-11 record, including an 11-7 record in the talent-wealthy Big 12. But the success of Texas last season can be largely contributed to this very underrated freshman that was overlooked by the powerhouse programs in college basketball.
Now heading into his sophomore campaign, Taylor will be one of the focal points of every opposition’s game plan, despite the braggable depth of Texas’ roster. But with that depth comes marginal room for error and the obvious question of whether or not an even deeper roster will force Taylor to take a step back in 2014-15.
Well, to put it simply, the answer depends on how Taylor manages his development this offseason, as well as what control over the team he is expected to display once the season kicks off.
In addition to Taylor, Texas has two others who can confidently and successfully play the floor general role in Javan Felix and Kendal Yancy, although Felix tends to shoulder his usual position on the wing. Of course, Taylor is the clear-cut favorite of the three to fill the starting point guard job again, just as he was as a freshman.
But what could complicate the minutes for Taylor, in addition to potentially clouding his future success is the change of landscape and true domino effect that comes by way of incoming freshmen Myles Turner and Jordan Barnett.
With the addition of these two freshmen, Rick Barnes now has a roster that includes 10-12 players who can all come in and contribute on any given night and this is where the domino effect comes into play. Turner will likely come in as Texas’ starting power forward, which will force Jonathan Holmes to finally step up and become more versatile as a wing player. That move will shake things up for guys like Demarcus Holland and Martez Walker, who are both worthy of minutes on each side of the wing. This, in turn, will make minutes scarcer for the Felix and Yancy, who are both beyond worthy of their court time.
The only place to from there is to allocate minutes from the point guard, being Taylor. This is where his future success and productivity depends on how he handles the minute room for error on this loaded squad.
So let’s take a look at the first scenario, which is if Taylor struggles trying to find himself next season.
Despite climbing the ranks of impactful guards last season, there is more than a fair share of work Taylor needed to focus on this offseason. Things such as a shooting touch from both beyond the arc and in the mid-range, learning how to control his emotions and finish plays, as well as simply understanding the game beyond what he did as a freshman. Like I mentioned earlier, teams will start game planning around Taylor and how he can pick apart defenses piece by piece. If he comes into next season with minimal offseason development, he won’t find the lane open as often as it was last season. The double teams will be there in bunches and people stepping out to guard Taylor 15-feet from the rim simply won’t happen with his jump shot.
But this is just his development alone. Turner is going to come in and make a massive impact from day one. Big man Cameron Ridley is going to take another stride towards his dominance in the paint, and Felix is by no means looking to give up any of his numerous shots. This is simply pointing out that there will be fewer shots to take, less freedom offensively and a much smaller opportunity for advancement as a point guard and a leader if Taylor fails to rise to the occasion.
But then there’s what happens if Taylor takes the growth and added dimensions of the team in stride, which I believe will be the case.
By last season’s end, Texas was looking like a team that was only one star player away from becoming a championship contender. Most are assuming that star will be Turner, who brings in a talent level that hasn’t been seen in Austin since the Kevin Durant days. Turner and Ridley’s interior presence will be what team’s fear most about the Longhorns, and that could work perfectly to Taylor’s advantage. Outside of opposition being forced to focus a little less on Taylor to bring help defense into the paint, he will have two guys in the paint who could become go to options offensively and space the floor for everybody else.
The only thing I’m thinking with that recipe is assists, assists, and more assists. There would simply be too much talent and depth on the Longhorns’ roster to contain everybody, and given Taylor’s ability to shred defenses with his quickness and ball handling, Isaiah would become the most generous player on the roster after feeding everybody as many shots as they can muster.
But the final and most impactful aspect towards is progress next season is his shooting ability. Let’s say Taylor does find his way as a scorer outside of the paint. Now you’re looking at a guy who could quite possibly become the star Texas is lacking. Texas already has more than enough guys who can come in and contribute on the scoreboard, and with the attention that Turner, Ridley and even Holmes demand, it would be impossible to give any help to whoever is guarding Taylor. The supporting cast around him would open up just as many doors to score for Taylor as he does for them after breaking defenses down.
If this were the case, and I believe it will be, you now have your First Team All-Big 12 point guard being a guy who wasn’t even able to draw the attention of college basketball’s premier programs during his high school years.