Despite the fact that Jeffery Taylor has earned multiple All-SEC awards, it's still safe to say that he has yet to live up to the full potential he's shown on the basketball court. That's just how good he could be.
Taylor may be the most physically gifted player Coach Kevin Stallings has ever worked with. The 6'7" forward's athleticism got him to the SEC. His work ethic has made him a potential lottery pick in next year's NBA Draft. Fans have watched him develop from a skinny, super-quick wing who was lost on the perimeter to one of the NCAA's best swingmen.
His evolution as a Commodore has been impressive to watch. When opponents sloughed in to the paint to prevent his dribble-drives, he developed an effective three-point game that forces defenders to shadow him on the perimeter. When he had trouble bodying up against stronger swingmen, he dedicated himself to the weight room and came back for his junior season 25 pounds heavier. Taylor's career has been defined by the strides he has made in the depths of Memorial Gym.
He'll have one last hurdle to clear to leave his mark as a Commodore legend - his consistency.
The biggest knock on Taylor is that you never know which player will show up. This isn't on a game-to-game basis but rather a minute-to-minute one. The high-flying Swede can play absolutely dominant basketball for stretches before fading into the background without warning. Though his defensive efforts never wane, his offensive presence pulses in and out of many games.
Take last season's game against North Carolina, for example. Taylor showcased all the skills that make him an elite small forward in a four-minute stretch. He opened the game with an cutting drive that led to an and-one free throw, then followed that up with a pair of three-pointers. In between the scoring, he added two huge blocks to get the team out to a fast start against the #8 ranked Tar Heels.
Then, he just blended into the background. Taylor took a backseat to the team's other options after missing a three to end his torrid streak. With either his confidence fading or his adrenaline shot, he went from All-American to role player in a manner of minutes. Though Vanderbilt won the game, Taylor contributed just six points in the final 35:45, a disappointing figure for the player who is this team's clear second scoring option.
Vanderbilt will need that pumped-up All-American to rear his head if they want to make it to their first ever Final Four in 2012. Taylor will have to string together these terror streaks to give the Commodores the SEC's scariest offense. Between Taylor's drives, John Jenkins's shooting, and Festus Ezeli's post play, opponents will struggle to find answers for Vandy's volume scoring. However, if Taylor continues to play with the consistent effort of a Caribbean bank, the pressure will fall on the rest of this team to fill in the gaps.
The Starter: Jeffery Taylor - Taylor has developed into one of the best two-way players ever to call Ingram Court home. He's a tenacious defender whose combination of length, strength, and quickness will put him on a NBA roster even without a consistent offensive game. He's a pestering defender who works well when it comes to keeping opponents in front of him. His height and jumping ability give him several opportunities to disrupt shots in both one-on-one and help situations.
Offensively, he plays like a video game character, which isn't always a good thing. He employed a cutting spin move throughout his junior campaign that looked awesome in theory but often left him lost when he got back to the basket. He can try to do too much with limited opportunities, and gets frustrated to the point where it can cause funks in his game.
Despite these shortcomings, Taylor is still an explosive and proficient scorer. He's got the speed to get to the rim and the strength to finish there - and when he does, it's often spectacular. He has developed his long-range shooting as well, making 39 three-pointers as a junior after hitting just 10 in his first two years at Vanderbilt combined. Though he's settled into the role as second option behind John Jenkins on this team, he's still bound to have many nights where he leads this team in scoring.
Taylor's bottom line is simple - if he can reconcile his immense talents with the killer instinct that ebbs and flows during games, he has a chance to be Vanderbilt's best all-around player since Clyde Lee. That's a big expectation, but Jeffery Taylor has proved time and again that he's committed to improving his game. Can 2011-2012 be the year he cashes in on four grueling years of hard work?
The Back-up: Rod Odom - Odom, a sophomore, played well in significant minutes as a freshman, earning nearly 16 minutes per game and eight starts despite his youth. He's a tall, talented player who could be bound for more minutes at power forward once Steve Tchiengang and Lance Goulbourne graduate. Until then, he'll make for a very solid backup three and spot starter thanks to his ability to stretch the floor.
Odom isn't a great rebounder despite his 6'9" frame, but has bulked up slightly (to 215 pounds) in an effort to be more of a presence against SEC forwards. He's got decent speed and long arms that help him to defend effectively, but he's still got room to develop as a stopper out on the wing. He's not much of a shot blocker and had trouble adjusting to the speed and sets of NCAA play in stretches of last season. However, with his freshman year out of the way, he's expected to make strides as a sophomore.
Odom is a solid shooter with legitimate three-point range. He made 37.3% of his attempts last year thanks in part to his ability to shoot over smaller defenders. However, he can get rattled inside the paint and is a less effective scorer off drives and in pull-up situations. Again, this is something that should develop after a year of NCAA play.
The sophomore will be counted on to play a key rotational role in 2011-2012 before becoming one of this team's leaders next season. His length and developing defensive instincts make him an intriguing prospect for Kevin Stallings and his staff. If Odom can learn to use his size to keep opposing wings out of the paint, then he'll paint an optimistic picture in the light of next year's rebuilding campaign.
The Wild Card: James Siakam - Siakam is a power forward with great defensive instincts and a tenacious rebounding streak. Unfortunately, his size at 6'6" - along with this team's depth at power forward - suggests that he may end up seeing some minutes at small forward in 2011.
Siakam, the team's second Cameroonian alongside Steve Tchiengang, is still bringing along his offensive game, but he'll have the opportunity to impact Commodore games with his rebounding and defensive presence. He's extremely active on the glass and his strong frame makes him difficult to back down or gain position on in the post. While opposing fours will be able to shoot over him, this advantage will be mostly negated against the SEC's threes.
Whether or not "Bamba" will see time at SF in 2011-2012 is unknown for now. His play at Memorial Madness suggests that he'll find playing time sooner rather than later, and Coach Stallings may throw him right to the fire as an undersized, Dennis Rodman-style power forward. Vanderbilt has won before behind small-ball lineups, but it has yet to be seen if Siakam can provide the offense he needs to justify his rebounding presence on the court. If so, he could be a fan-favorite spark off the bench - a la Jamie Graham in 2008 - for a very good Commodore team.