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Progress Review: Jeffery Taylor

To say Jeffery Taylor is a small part of Vanderbilt's future is like saying that Hank Williams Jr. songs are only a minor presence amongst cover bands on Broadway - a major understatement. The first two progress reports dealt with the pieces that will likely make up Vanderbilt's starting backcourt next year - Brad Tinsley and John Jenkins. Moving forward, we'll take a look at the forwards this week, starting today with everyone's favorite high-flier. Taylor no doubt made more headlines this year with standout games, but also stumbled through games where he had a limited impact - especially on the offensive end.

Vanderbilt will be counting on the sophomore to continue to grow and push his shooting range out to the three point line as an upperclassman. Taylor earned his points mostly by slashing into the paint for close range shots and drawing fouls, but occasionally pulled out an improved jumper that he showed confidence in from 20 feet and closer to the rim. If he can connect from long range with accuracy in 2011, defenders will have to play him tighter on the perimeter, allowing him more opportunities to drive past defenders using his superior athleticism. It is this potential, along with his leaping ability and lateral movement, that have made Taylor a staple on many pundits' 2011 NBA Draft boards.

[With the fifth pick in the 2011 NBA Draft]
Jeff Taylor SF
20 years old; 6'6"; 200 lbs.
Vanderbilt, Sophomore

Based on his play in 2009-2010, many scouts are suggesting that 2010-2011 will be Taylor's coming out year. After watching him play this season, it's clear that while all the tools are there for Taylor to be Vanderbilt's first lottery pick since Will Perdue, he still has yet to put them all together in a way that allows him to control basketball games. The Monarch (new nickname, let's run with it) had a few games that suggested that he was about to reach his potential as a player (26 points while getting to the line at will against Tennessee, 19 points on 11 shots against Ole Miss), but others that showed that he's got a ways to go.

Observational: Taylor showed a better adjustment to the college game in his sophomore season, almost completely abandoning an inconsistent (and often weak) three pointer in order to concentrate more on drives and open mid-range jumpers. He excelled at getting to the line (a Vanderbilt specialty in 2010) and then making his freebies, which accounted for a good chunk of his offense. Though he has to improve his ballhandling and ability to protect the ball (too many careless turnovers), his dribbling and vision should soon catch up to the speed he displays on the court. Defensively, the young Swede was able to use his athleticism to stay ahead of opposing wings and used his length to disrupt passing lanes. While underrated at first, Taylor's defensive play earned him an All-SEC Defensive team honor.

The most disappointing facet of Jeffery Taylor's 2009-2010 season, however, was his tendency to disappear into the flow of games and shrink in the spotlight. While Taylor came up big in the rivalry game against Tennessee, he shrunk in games in the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. These flops didn't just happen in big games; Taylor also put up clunkers against teams like Florida and Mississippi State - good, but not great squads - in the regular season. The uber-athletic forward may just be the team's streakiest player on a roster full of up-and-down players - but he's got the most potential of anyone to develop into an All-American.

Statistically Speaking: Taylor's up and down season peaked in the second half of SEC play, and then fell apart in the post-season. His statistics are broken down into four periods - out-of-conference play, first half of SEC play, second half of SEC play (beginning with his breakout game against Tennessee), and then post-season play. Despite the small sample size for the post-season stats, there is a clear drop-off across the board in Taylor's contributions on the court.

2008-2009 *19-12 26 8.7 50.2% 4.5 69.1% 1.3 22.0% 12.2 6.2 1.7 2.2 0.77 0.9 2.5
2009-10 OOC *11-3 25.9 9.9 52.5% 4.9 72.5% 0.6 12.5% 14.1 5.8 1.8 2.3 0.78 1.1 2.2
2010 SEC -
1st half
*6-2 25.9 7.3 51.7% 6.3 72.0% 0.1 0.0% 12.0 4.4 1.8 2.8 0.64 1.6 2.9
2010 SEC -
2nd half
*6-2 29.6 9.9 48.1% 7.3 81.0% 0.3 0.0% 15.4 4.5 1.9 2.3 0.83 0.9 2.9
2010 Postseason *1-2 25.3 8.0 29.2% 4.0 66.7% 0.0 n/a 7.3 6.7 1.0 0.7 1.50 0.0 3.3

Taylor's postseason stats are pretty terrible by his standards. His shooting dipped over 20 percent below his career average, and his only improvements came by way of more rebounds and fewer turnovers. The rest of his stats tell an uneven story. JT runs hot and cold for extended periods, and the fluctuation is seen across several categories - namely scoring, free throw attempts, rebounds, steals, and turnovers.

The free throw numbers are tough to decipher - in Taylor's second best stretch of getting to the line (6.3 attempts per game), he was mired in a slight decline in production that lasted through the first half of SEC play. Observationally, the standard assumption would be that Taylor plays his best offensively when he gets to the line more, but the statistics don't necessarily support this fully. However, this slump could be attributed to a lack of confidence shooting against top competition rather than a detriment related to his ability to get to the line. In fact, you could make the case that while Taylor shied away from taking shots he lacked confidence in, he made up for this by driving more and drawing fouls. This could be the cause of this inconsistency in the stats.

Despite the lapse, the 2009-2010 season showed that Jeffery Taylor can take over a game offensively, although he's not at a level where he can do that consistently. Additionally, when he hasn't been shooting well, he has found ways to contribute on the other end of the court, though the only increase that bears this out is a jump in steals in the first half of SEC play. His decision to abandon the three-pointer must have stung his pride, but it was the right one for 2010, and his numbers are better in light of that.

The statistics based on these time lines suggest that Taylor tends to play tentatively in new pressure situations, whether it's the beginning of league play or the postseason. The idea that Taylor's mental game needs to catch up to his physical one is a theory that likely gained some credibility in 2010. Fortunately, he's playing for a coach known for taking late bloomers and turning them into SEC Players of the Year. The Monarch has already shown that he can grow, and Coach Kevin Stallings no doubt has a plan for the young Swedish hybrid.*

Progression, Regression, or Static?: Progression. Despite some slumps, Taylor showed a strong ability to learn and adjust to his surroundings on the court. His sophomore year showcased better decision making to go along with the freakish athleticism and nasty dunks that have become a Jeffery Taylor trademark. Additionally, the young forward showed strides in letting the game come to him and taking shots that he felt comfortable with instead of forcing three pointers. While it was frustrating seeing him take shots from just a couple steps inside the arc, it was comforting knowing that he was sacrificing the higher profile shot for the more consistent one. Taylor absolutely developed, and if he can continue on this path, he could exceed scouts' expectations.

If he can expand his range out to three-point territory he'll be nearly unstoppable on nights when he's clicking, and if he can add stronger ballhandling to his repertoire, he could help spell the Tinsley/Jenkins backcourt with some key minutes at shooting guard. Taylor has the size, athleticism, and ability to learn to make it in the pros, but the mindset to be a perfect college player and teammate. However, he'll have to show some consistency before a team will spend a first round pick on him. With Jermaine Beal gone, he'll have the chance to step up in a big way for the Commodores. Though he'll probably have to share the spotlight with teammates like A.J. Ogilvy and John Jenkins gunning to be the next Vanderbilt All-American, he's shown that he can roll with the punches and do what he can to contribute to a Commodore squad that is primed for a SEC Championship.

*Swedish Hybrid. Another good nickname possibility.