Years ago, when asked by numerous college coaches about a certain player, I'd always remind them: "You are seduced by talent, but toughness will win you more games." In the NBA, where the game is more open and fouls are called more frequently, talent trumps everything. But toughness is still sorely needed, especially when guarding talented and tall wing scorers. All of that bodes well for Jeff Taylor, Vanderbilt's best player, and a guy who has real first-round potential.
Taylor is a very interesting player to watch because he can lull you to sleep with his steady play before making an acrobatic play. Let's take a closer look at his overall game.
As a perimeter player, we need to check his shooting first and Taylor does not disappoint. He's one of the most improved shooters in college hoops. In his first two years of school, he made just 10-of-52 3-pointers (1-for-11 last season), but this season he's a solid 36-of-99. He has nice form on most of his shots, and if he had three straight years of 36 percent shooting, I'd guess he's just going to be an average shooter in the NBA. However, his improvement this season gives hope that his learning curve is continuing.
His mid-range jumper is very smooth and looks to be ready for some curls or fades in the NBA. He aims them sometimes, but this easily can be cured. Trusting his shot is something he'll be working on daily as a pro, but his size and explosiveness make him a formidable cutter and finisher.
Taylor is not a guy who looks able to break down defenders in the half court, which is why he does not project to be a top-20 lock. But he's one of the best transition players on the wing I've seen this season. What excites me is his ability to quickly make a move on the run, yet still remain in control so he can get the finish or draw the foul. He loves changing to his left hand near the rim, a rarity among righties. Taylor does a great job of keeping his shoulders up and square to the rim and can nimbly spin off defenders when needed. He would not be a great fit for a team that wants to play at a slow pace. But Taylor's ability to race and finish would be helpful for a running team.
Though he's not a dribble-drive weapon, Taylor is both a ball-mover and someone capable of making tight passes for assists. He knows how to play a role on Vandy's team, so it's likely that will continue going forward. Playing him next to talented wings works because he won't take their shots, he'll get them the ball and he'll still find ways to contribute as a scorer. He has very strong hands and, when combined with his size and strength, he projects to be a factor on the offensive glass. He hasn't been a big factor in college in that area, but it doesn't look like he's supposed to. Getting back on defense is his prime responsibility.
Still, Taylor's best attribute is his ability as a wing defender. He's powerful and agile, which means he'll be able to defend against 3-point shooters in the NBA without getting beaten too often, and his strong hands will bother finishers who don't protect the ball as they near the rim. Keep this in mind -- one of the top wing defenders in the NBA is Thabo Sefolosha, who is Swiss born like Taylor. Sefolosha is smaller but has more length, which is one of the reasons why he's so tough to score on. But Taylor plays like him, with toughness and pride on the defensive end.
Taylor is considered a guy who could be selected anywhere between the 25th to 40th pick in the draft, if he enters. Those are fluid numbers for a lot or reasons, starting with the fact that we don't know how many guys will actually enter and stay in the draft. But when I look at the likely draft spots for Denver, Orlando and New York, which will likely be drafting between Nos. 17 and 23, I see teams that could use Taylor. Philadelphia, which likely will draft just outside the lottery, is a possibility as well, especially if Taylor can keep improving as a shooter.