University of Kansas

Here’s why Tyshawn Taylor believes one KU player has untapped upside

It’s only a few hours before his playoff game in Venezuela, but Tyshawn Taylor says to call him. There’s always time to chat about one of his favorite topics.

“Honestly,” Taylor says, “I could talk pick-and-roll all day.”

The former Kansas point guard admits he wasn’t always like this. His nickname used to be “Tyshawn Turnover,” built up from years of putting his head down with reckless drives in the lane. It used to be, once he received a ball screen, he had only one move: Attack the big man no matter what.

“It was just turn a corner at 100 miles an hour,” Taylor says, “and see what happens.”

Taylor, now 29, laughs about it all now. Perhaps his greatest attribute — the thing that’s kept him playing professionally this long — is something he completely lacked while playing as a freshman at KU.

And this is the very reason that Taylor potentially sees promising things ahead for Jayhawks sophomore point guard Devon Dotson.

“I think he has all the tools to be able to make the plays,” Taylor says. “It’s just about understanding the reads.”

It took Taylor awhile to grasp — and appreciate — how much of the game this is. When he was drafted by the Brooklyn Nets in 2012, he remembers an assistant coach telling him that the best point guards were between 27 and 32 years old, all because they’d matured with their understanding of how basketball is played.

The biggest part of that is the pick-and-roll; there’s no perfect way to guard it, with every potential defense leaving a weakness exposed somewhere.

“I’ve gotten really good at it over the years,” Taylor says. “But it’s being really patient and understanding the game a little bit better.”

Taylor is ready to explain what he means ... with help from video of two plays he’s been sent from last week’s KU camp scrimmage.

The first shows him coming around a pick-and-roll, doing so under control and with his head up. Though it’s easy to miss in real time, Taylor makes a subtle pass-fake to the corner to move defenders, then looks away before firing it inside to David McCormack; KU’s big man catches with both feet in the lane, getting a dunk blocked before grabbing the rebound and drawing a shooting foul.

Taylor says so much is going through his mind here. He knows where all his teammates are, and also where the help defense is most likely to come from. He also understands, if a defender helps too much in the paint, there’s always the option of finding a teammate for an open three.

It’s why pace is so important. Taylor is in no hurry, gliding around the ball screen, weighing his options, looking for that perfect moment to attack the defense’s weakness.

“This is why sometimes as a point guard, it’s tough for coaches and point guards … they always seem to have weird relationships, because on the court, you see these things happening so fast, and when you’re sitting on the sideline from a coach’s perspective, you’re seeing it a little slower,” Taylor says. “If you become that coach on the court — which all the great point guards always say we are an extension of the coach on the court — it’s because they’re seeing the game a little bit slower.”

Taylor saw glimpses of his earlier self when watching a replay of Dotson going through a pick-and-roll at the same camp game.

In this one instance, Dotson comes around Udoka Azubuike’s screen, but doesn’t look to him. On rewatch, Taylor believes just faking a pass to Azubuike could potentially move multiple defenders into a help position, which in turn could open up Mitch Lightfoot for a wide-open three.

Instead, Dotson rushes a bit, immediately firing back to Lightfoot while gaining no offensive advantage.

“Again, these are not reads I was able to read until maybe two or three years ago,” Taylor says. “It’s learning how to dictate.”

These are the types of plays, however, that could be there for the taking in 2019-20.

Dotson seems to understand this is an area he can grow. When talking to reporters earlier this month, he said “better decision making on the court” was one facet where teams at the NBA Combine wanted to see him improve. He also stated a personal objective was “to lead and just be that guy on the floor that can really help everybody else out there.”

Becoming more efficient in pick-and-roll situations could be a good starting point. Dotson’s overall 19.6% assist rate was only OK last year — he ranked 407th nationally — while his 21.9% mark in conference play was 10th among Big 12 players.

“If I could give him any advice, I would just watch a lot of tape on myself, how teams guarded me last year,” Taylor says. “I would definitely watch a lot of tape on myself, but not highlights. Like actual games, to see how I’m being guarded.”

The hope, then, would be to help speed up the maturation process. It was only through experience that Taylor said he finally began to understand the game in a deeper way.

That should be coming in time, he says, for Dotson as well.

“That sophomore year, people always say how tough it is, especially when you have a pretty good freshman year, because now, people know you. They expect you to play good,” Taylor says. “ ... It was a little tougher for me, but I’m looking forward to seeing how he handles it.

“I think he’ll do great.”

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.