On Wednesday, Jeff Taylor's 24-game suspension for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge ended. He can now be added to the active roster, but as the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell reported Tuesday, it was unlikely Taylor would be activated immediately. That held true Wednesday night, as Taylor did not dress for the Hornets game against Phoenix. For Steve Clifford, Taylor simply hasn't played enough competitive basketball in the past year. Per Bonnell:
Clifford noted it’s been nearly a year since Taylor last played in an NBA game after he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in late December. Taylor’s only activity with the team since then has been a couple of workouts with the summer-league team in July and some practices after the NBA announced his suspension.
Additionally, Bonnell noted the Hornets' depth at the wing positions would make it difficult for Taylor to find minutes. Currently the rotation consists of Lance Stephenson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Gary Neal, Gerald Henderson, and even Brian Roberts in select spots. P.J. Hairston, who did break the rotation while MKG was out, has not played in recent games. Finding minutes for Jeff Taylor, after being out for so long, seems unlikely in the near the future.
As it stands, Taylor probably won't play for the Hornets until 2015. When he does eventually play, what can the Hornets expect from him?
Taylor's first two seasons showed bits of promise. Taylor came into the league after four years at Vanderbilt, developing into a good 3-point shooter and strong defender. He showed as much his rookie season, averaging 6.1 points, playing 19.6 minutes per game. His field goal percentage was 43.1 percent, with 3-point percentage of 34.4 percent. Last season, Taylor's scoring and minutes per game increased to 8.0 points per game in 24 minutes, however his shooting percentages dropped significantly, with a field goal percentage of 37.6 and a 3-point percentage of just 26.9. Taylor's free throw percentage, which was 72.8 percent his rookie year, also dropped to a poor 55.3 percent. While Taylor's shooting percentages dipped, his attempts per game rose, averaging 8.4 a game as opposed to 5.2 his rookie season. More shots were going up, but less were going in.
Unfortunately, Taylor wasn't given the opportunity to break out of his early season funk due to the torn achilles. Despite a full recovery from the injury, and the clearance to play following the suspension, it would be unfair to expect Taylor to be any kind of key missing piece for the Hornets. Putting aside the injury and legal issues, he simply wasn't playing well before the injury.
However, this doesn't mean Taylor wouldn't be valuable in the rotation. There are a couple of areas he excels in -- finishing at the rim, shooting corner 3's, and playing good perimeter defense. For his career, Taylor has a field goal percentage of 61.7 percent at the rim. Last season, he had attempted more shots within three feet (85) than anywhere else on the court. Taylor's high tendency to drive could add a needed dynamic to a team that too often pulls up for mid-range shots rather than driving all the way to the hoop.
While his three point shooting will need to improve, particularly from last season, he showed promise from the corner spot. His rookie season, he averaged 41.9 percent from three. Last season, he averaged 36.1 percent, and while this is down from his rookie year, it was still well over his over his season average of 26.9. Furthermore, over half of his attempts (53.7 percent), came from the corner spot last season. If Taylor can knock down corner-3s at an efficient rate, he could become a weapon for the Hornets in drift pass situations.
Finally, Taylor was known as one of the better perimeter defenders on the team. Both Dunlap and Clifford used Taylor in late game situations, and with his size Clifford could turn to him to guard the better small forwards in the league, rather than Stephenson or Henderson. For a team with the current defensive rating of 22nd in the league, an opponent field goal percentage of 46.8 (ranked 25th in the league) and an opponent three point percentage of 38.2 (ranked 27th), the Hornets could use a good defender on the perimeter.
In other words, Taylor should look to replicate Chris Douglas-Roberts, who Charlotte signed following the injury. CDR shot 63.4 percent at the rim, while shooting 44.4 percent from corner-3s, which made up over 40 percent of his attempts.
This may seem like a specific role, but consider that no player on the current roster utilizes corner-3s any where close to the rate CDR did last season. Currently, Henderson takes the most 3-pointers from the corners, but only 32.3 percent of his attempts come from those spots. Utilizing a player this way won't revolution Charlotte's offense, but it will give them an outlet they currently don't have in a lot of possessions.
Emulating Douglas-Roberts is a realistic goal for Taylor. Whether he gets the chance to do it depends on how quickly he gets into game shape, and if minutes become available later in the season. He won't be Charlotte's savior, but Taylor could add different, yet needed elements to the Hornets on both sides of the ball.