Tyshawn Taylor entered Kansas as a consensus top-100 recruit out of legendary St Anthony's in Jersey City, NJ. He started 33 games his freshman season, still his high mark. He's played on the ball. He's played off the ball. He's even changed his jersey number from 15 to 10. It is his inconsistencies on and off the court that have marked his tenure. The only thing Taylor was consistent about was the impression he gave as a a player, which was that of a combo-guard who constantly seemed as if he was about to make a big leap forward. But he never did.
His tools are off the charts. He's 6'3 and faster than most guards he competes against. His top end speed is impressive, especially with the dribble. And he has the strength and lateral quickness to be an elite defender. The problem is that his development was slow. His game didn't really improve in bursts. His decision making didn't get noticeably better. So the great wildcard in the Jayhawks season would be how well Taylor handled his expanded role now that the Morris Twins, Xavier Henry, Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins were no longer there to bail him out. Run the Floor (as well as many other sites) had tagged Thomas Robinson as a breakout player of the year candidate, and he's exceeded all expectations. He should be the front runner for National Player of the Year. But college hoops is a guards game. How has Taylor fared?
First, how much has his role expanded? Here are his % of minutes played along with the % of possessions he uses when he's on the floor:
His first three seasons he played somewhere between 57% and 66% of his team's minutes. This year that has jumped to nearly 81%, which is 3rd in the Big-12 behind J'Covan Brown (Texas) and Marcus Denmon (Mizzou). Taylor's possessions have also increased significantly. When Kansas had plenty of options Taylor used roughly 1/5 of them when he was on the floor. This year, with the ball in his hands, that's jumped all the way to 28.6% of possessions, which is 4th in the Big 12. So he's playing more, and his importance in the system has increased significantly. As Coach Penders said on Twitter, he's previously had guys around him that could handle, drive, shoot, etc.. but now he's the man.
Next I looked at his assist and turnover rates, and these were perhaps best exemplified in in KUs win over Ohio State when Taylor had 13 assists but 7 turnovers. Decision making has long been a problem for Taylor, and he often forces passes that clearly aren't there. Or if it is there he passes to the right location but with the wrong technique.
The good news for his development is that his assist rate has steadily increased. And it was already solid (20.6) as a freshman. Now he's 5th in the Big 12 at 30.8. The downside is turnovers. His rate was 25.6 as a freshman, and it's 24 now. In 11 of 20 games this season he's committed at least 4 turnovers. Against Kansas State he committed 8. Against Duke, 11.
Another way to get at his decision making is the rate at which he commits and draws fouls. With his first step he's regularly able to get into the lane, but has he gotten better at drawing contact? And on the defensive end, his effort is inconsistent, and it's often led to lazy hands and wtf fouls committed 30 feet from the basket. Looking at the data, here are his fouls per 40 minutes on both ends.
Fouls are part skill, part effort, and part decision making. So we can't conclude that his decision making is better, but his foul rates are certainly encouraging. After an up and down first three seasons he's improved as a senior. He's now in the top-10 in the Big 12 at drawing fouls and not committing them.
Finally, I wanted to look at his shooting %s. I limited this to free throws and 3s. FTs because every one is the same, and 3s because there's far less variation than 2s. Most 3s are from about 21 feet, and most 3s are taken by players who are relatively open. There's too much variation in 2pt% for a guard who is routinely finishing in traffic.
Here there are mixed signals. As a freshman he shot over 72% from the line. As a senior that has dipped below 69%. Regardless of whether this is in the realm of standard deviation (I'm not saying he's worse) he clearly hasn't shown improvement in a metric which is improved like everything else - through hard work. But his 3pt% has improved. It was passable as a freshman and sophomore, solid as a junior and is now almost 46% as a senior. He the best 3pt option the Jayhawks have, and one of the best in the conference.
The Blue Ribbon Yearbook pegged Kansas as the #11 team in the nation. The AP and Coaches Polls had them at 13th. But right now Kansas is a top-5 team. Thomas Robinson is going to get the lion's share of the credit for exceeding expectations (to this point), but the growth in Taylor's game has a lot to do with it as well. Three games into the season Andy Bottoms noted that the indicators were there for Tyshawn Taylor to post a breakthrough season, and it seems he was right. Kansas, and Taylor, are legit.
Here's a video from Monday's 64-54 win over Texas A&M. Taylor begins the possession in the left corner and runs a simple curl around a Thomas Robinson screen. The Aggie defenders commit to stopping Taylor, and he makes a good decision with the ball.