Wow, it was a rough week in Chez Blogcat. God clearly hates me, because He reached out and smote my beloved Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s fourth metacarpal in Tuesday’s game against Dallas. I’m positive it was God because MKG has no memory of how it happened, so who else could it have been? Now I’m really worried, because if you’ll recall, God did the same thing to Jacob’s leg several seasons ago, and Jacob’s career was never the same after that.
This means that Jeffery Taylor, the timid, second-year Swede, is going to have to play for MKG, presumably until early February. At this point, we’ve all heard so much about Taylor’s awesome summer performance in Las Vegas and EuroBasket that someone should create a highlight reel of Taylor’s plays and splice it with the “Summer Nights” scene from Grease. Unfortunately, none of it has translated to the regular season. Even after his great game last night against the Sixers, Taylor’s PER is down to a Biyombian 7.0 and he has the true shooting percentage (45.2%) of a drunken Mennonite armed with a missile launcher. In fact, all of his numbers are violently down from last year’s modest debut—except his turnovers and fouls. At the same time, his usage rate is up—from 14.9% to 19.4%. If this trend doesn’t change, I fear his body is actually going to scab up until it turns into a disgusting egg shell and cracks, and out of it will emerge a slime-covered Tyrus Thomas.
On the other hand, there WAS last night. In his first game filling in for MKG, Taylor was a force all over the court. He dropped a Gap Band-level 25-foot 3-point bomb early in the 4th quarter, even though he was covered and not in rhythm. Then off a jump-ball with 8:45 to go he drove from the perimeter and one-hand-jammed it like a tart over half-assed block attempts from Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young. Both of these plays Febreezed any whiff of a Sixers comeback from double-digits down, and they epitomized Taylor’s potential as an outside threat who can also finish at the rim. But although Taylor covered himself in glory, bear in mind that this was against the Sixers, who are covering themselves in something else entirely this season. Philadelphia is currently ranked 27th in defensive efficiency, probably because they haven’t had a competent big man since they played some of their home games in Hershey. Thus after one good night by Taylor against them, I’m not quite ready to break out into “Ignition (Remix).” For his part, Taylor sounds quietly confident in his abilities. “I’m an athletic player, I get to the rim, these games are fun for me,” he said after the game, although it was unclear if he was talking to a reporter or repeating some sort of Stuart Smalley-esque daily affirmation.
I’ll also feel a lot better about Taylor when he tightens up his defense, which is currently looser than my bowels after a curry buffet. Even in last night’s 17-point victory against Philly, Taylor was just a +3 in 37 minutes of court time. In other words, he was tied for second-lowest in +/- with my man Jeff Adrien (whom I’ve affectionately started calling “Dinosaur Head”—see below), who only played 8 minutes. For the season, the defense is literally at its least efficient (102.2 points-per-100 possessions) with Taylor on the court and at its best (92.0) when he’s off, per NBA.com/stats. The problem is that Taylor is playing too far off his opponents. Even Ramon Sessions has a higher blocking percentage than does Taylor, and Anthony Tolliver out-steals him. Synergy Sports backs me up on this: Taylor’s pretty competent in isolation—especially on the pick-and-roll ball handler—but he gets burned with spot-up shots, and opponents know it, because it’s their most common tactic (26.7% of the plays run at Taylor are spot-ups, the most of any, and they’re good for .98 points-per-play). In Taylor’s defense, he’s probably only doing what he’s told, as his weakness is a microcosm of the entire team’s. Coach Clifford has made a conscious decision to tighten the inside paint at the expense of the perimeter, and with the current defensive efficiency ranked 3rd overall, I’m totally willing to accept it. But if you’re searching for this chain’s weakest link, Jeff Taylor is that brown smudge on the Mr. T rope necklace.
However, last night’s game was a step in the right direction, and if Taylor can keep it up, it’ll get me through this rough time. I don’t have any children, but after Tuesday night’s devastating injury to MKG, I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that now I know what it means to have lost a son.
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