Brandon Taylor’s (currently) historical decline

Opened up my tee-shirt drawer the other day. In there I spotted my favorite and slipped it on. Didn’t matter the tattered fabric or faded images, the arm pits’ hue at least suggesting a semblance of hygiene. I like my favorite shirt because it takes care of my essential: makes me happy, is reliably comfortable, and can get me where I need to be (grocery store, Laundromat, gym, warmly into bed) in my own aesthetic. The shirt knows what’s up.

And so I ask: What’s up with Brandon Taylor?

I love senior guards. In a previous lede to this article I tried to quantify it (PacHoops’ site specific search data is weak). I’ve written effusively about TJ McConnell and Mark Lyons while enlisting the services of others to talk about Larry Drew II and Abdul Gaddy. I love senior guards because, like my favorite tee-shirt, they take care of the essentials: make the team better (happy), understand the moment (comfort), and win (balls to not give a f*ck). That’s a senior guard. That’s my favorite shirt. I love senior guards.

And it was Taylor – not Jakob Poeltl’s transcendent talent – that has had me bullish on these Utes. I thought the Utes could weather the loss of Delon Wright because they had some nice returning pieces, highlighted of course by Poeltl, but glued together by everyone’s favorite: a senior guard with this returning stat line:

10.6ppg & 3.3apg on 45/44/86

118.2 Ortg on 18.8% usage

Those are great numbers. Taylor had the third highest in-conference ORtg last season (124.2). He’s not there right now. Not even close. He isn’t even a poke-a-hole-in-your-space-glove-let’s-give-this-a-shot close to those numbers (that’s a The Martian reference, keep up). I’m not even going to cite them, trust me, they’re down (ok – it’s 80.5 ortg, 20% 3FG, 31.5 FG%) He’s learning a new position? This still isn’t very good. I love senior guards and it sucks to see Brandon Taylor struggle like this.

But how bad is it?

Over the last four seasons of significant contributors (>40% minutes played) Brandon Taylor has demonstrated the most significant single season drop in production (calculated by Ortg) of any Pac-12 player. His current offensive rating of 80.5 not only ranks last amongst significant contributors, it’s a 31.90% drop from last season. Absorb.

That is, in fact, nearly twice as bad as the next biggest offender (Royce Woolridge posted a 17.10% dip in production). In the past four seasons there’s only been one other 30% productivity swing and that was Oregon’s Johnathan Loyd in 2014. He jumped from 89.3 in 2013 to 116.1 the following year. Loyd’s senior season.

Here’s a look at the ten largest productivity declines of the past four (2016 #s included):

Year Player Team First year Second year Change
2016 Brandon Taylor Utah 118.2 80.5 -31.90%
2014 Royce Woolridge Washington St. 104.1 86.3 -17.10%
2015 Langston Morris-Walker Oregon St. 110.4 94.2 -14.67%
2013 Devon Collier Oregon St. 122 104.8 -14.10%
2015 Xavier Talton Colorado 96 83.4 -13.13%
2015 Norman Powell UCLA 119.5 104.9 -12.22%
2015 Joseph Young Oregon 128.6 113.2 -11.98%
2013 E.J. Singler Oregon 117.2 103.7 -11.52%
2015 Elgin Cook Oregon 118.3 105.6 -10.74%
2016 Elgin Cook Oregon 105.6 94.8 -10.23%

Interestingly enough, the list features three seniors (all guards). Of course when examining “significant contributors” these guys are predisposed to fluctuation. They’re upper classmen and have earned the opportunity to have numbers good enough to drop off.

Can Taylor turn this season around? Absolutely. You don’t make 175 threes at a 40% clip on accident. And even if you’re going to throw the “Delon Wright argument at me” as a freshman – when we don’t have even the slightest clue what kind of comfy tee-shirt this guy will become – he made 42% of his threes (34-81). Of course at no point in his career has Taylor ever had a turnover rate (part of the Ortg equation) of 27.6%. Coach Krystkowiak is making the team run for it. Last year, Taylor started by coughing the ball up and slowly grew to take better care:

Brandon Taylor TOs

As noted, throughout these struggles, Taylor is learning a new position. He’s playing far more on ball (PG) than off. While I know he can shoot without Delon Wright, he can’t be Delon Wright.

The threes will start to fall as I can’t see any way that a guy who’s made that many at that high a rate continues to shoot at a 20% clip (fact – that’s his current 3FG%). Taylor hasn’t had this bad a shooting percentage (31.5%) over a nine game stretch since his freshman year (he shot 31.4% over nine games including five Pac-12 road games). Furthermore, Taylor has increased the percentage of shots he’s taking at the rim (11% to 17%) which is often an indication of finding easier buckets. It can also be indicative of over penetration, a leading culprit for turnovers.

Brandon Taylor can still be that favorite tee-shirt, that raggedy top that goes places to get things done. But right now its got a gnarly mustard stain, two gym visits and the corresponding odor.

He could use a little freshening up.

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