The two sophomores each had their third straight impressive game Monday, maybe their best game yet, leading the Rockets to a 99-90 win over the Phoenix Suns, who have three top 10 picks on their roster, including future All-Star (probably, he’s really good) Josh Jackson.
Williams and Taylor showed toughness, basketball IQ and superior athleticism, and it didn’t matter where their opponents where drafted or how much their contracts are for. We’ve already gone over Williams and how he’s a perfect Sam Dekker replacement (maybe even improvement). The buzz around him in Vegas has been palpable and he’s fourth in scoring at 25.7 points per game before the tournament starts today (the Rockets play at 3:30 CT).
Let’s now talk about Taylor, the other Rocket who has been turning heads with his play in Vegas.
In three games, Taylor is tied for the Summer League lead by averaging 8 assists, and is chipping in 14.3 points per game, shooting 46.4 percent from the floor, 50 percent from deep with just one turnover in 26 minutes per game. Summer League is typically dominated by point guards, but he has stood out even among his peers not only for his leadership of the offense, but for his devastating quickness and ability to get to the rim at will.
Rockets assistant coach Roy Rogers, who is leading the squad in Vegas, spoke to reporters after Game 3 and glowed about Taylor’s development last year in the D-League. Last summer, Taylor looked like just another guy, and showed enough in training camp to stick in Rio Grande Valley. By February, the organization had seen enough and signed him to a non-guaranteed contract.
“When you watch Isaiah Taylor play now compared to last summer when we were here, it just shows you how important the G-League is,” Rogers said. “He’s just such a different player. He’s really worked hard, and we’re excited where his future is going.”
Here’s the requisite caveat: Summer League doesn’t have a great history of being predictive of regular season performance. The stats are largely meaningless, and the sample size is so small that it is tough to truly evaluate. But the change in Taylor’s game from 2016 to now is evident, and the 23-year-old point guard still has room for improvement.
Mike D’Antoni has already said that one of Chris Paul and James Harden will be on the court at all times for the Rockets, assuming health. But after playing 277 out of a possible 279 games the last three seasons, including playoffs, the Rockets need to give Harden more rest to keep him fresh.
Chris Paul is 32, is coming off a season in which he played in 61 games and averaged a career-low 31.5 minutes per. Even if he avoids an injury all year, he still should not play in 82 games.
The Rockets don’t need to spend on a backup point guard to play only a handful of games. D’Antoni likes his eight-man rotations, and Daryl Morey likes the eight guys the Rockets currently have in those spots.
Taylor is a pure point guard. His assist-to-turnover ratio in the Summer League is an absurd 8:1. In the D-League last year, it was at 2.5:1, a good, not great number. He did shoot 45.7 percent from deep on 2.8 attempts a game, so while I’m not in love with his shooting form, the track record from deep is excellent.
Despite his shooting prowess, the Rockets would probably best be served with Gordon running alongside one of Paul or Harden when the other is on the bench, and that’s likely D’Antoni’s plan for the backcourt minutes. But for the games where Harden or Paul are out, Taylor should be a capable backup.
His speed is his most powerful tool, but as a legit passing and shooting threat, Taylor is the total package.
“He’s been able to depend on his speed and athleticism, and when you get to the NBA, everybody knows, with NBA assistant coaches, they sit there and watch hours of film, and if there’s a weakness, they’re going to expose it,” Rogers said. “They were trying to keep him out of the lane, and now he’s making the three-point shot. He’s got a chance to be a special player.”
Because Daryl Morey is Daryl Morey, Taylor is signed to a great contract: a two-year, $2.8 million non-guaranteed contract. Taylor might never be an NBA starter, but considering the precarious position the Rockets are in for the future with CP3’s contract, age and injury history, Taylor is the perfect insurance policy.