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Cleveland Cavaliers 2018-19 Player Preview: Isaiah Taylor

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The ultra-quick point guard brings a different element to the Cavaliers.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Taylor comes to Cleveland by way of Atlanta, where he spent the majority of last season as the backup point guard to Dennis Schröder. A hyper-athletic guard, Taylor made his name with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the G-League affiliate of the Houston Rockets, before moving on to Atlanta last offseason. Where he’ll fit in Cleveland remains to be seen, as the Cavaliers already have two point guards in whom they’ve invested heavily – George Hill is the incumbent starter and is paid as such and Collin Sexton is the team’s first-round draft pick and is perhaps the most important building block for the long-term future of the club. Add in other key players within the squad who need the ball to be successful (Rodney Hood, David Nwaba) and it’s not entirely clear that Taylor will have a chance to shine with the Cavaliers.

The first thing anybody will notice about Taylor is his immense top-end speed and acceleration. One of the fastest players in the league, he has no issues getting by his guy to the rim. Results vary when he gets into the paint, as he wasn’t a fantastic finisher last season with the Hawks, but he gets fouled at an extremely high rate and flashed solid playmaking skills when he was able to collapse the defense. Despite playing for an abysmal Atlanta offense last season, Taylor finished well above average in overall pick-and-roll efficiency.

Everything starts with Taylor’s strong driving ability, which will be aided in Cleveland when he plays in bench units with Channing Frye or Kevin Love at the center position. He’s able to turn the corner in pick-and-roll and take advantage of slower big men, as he does to Greg Monroe on two crucial late-game possessions:

Taylor’s not an overly advanced playmaker, but he’s able the make simple reads and execute passes well enough to make it work, especially given his stature as a second or third option at the point guard position. He’s smart about stringing out the defense laterally before swinging it back to a pick-and-pop big and can attack the lane without losing control of his dribble, then find the rolling big man. Like his passing, his handle isn’t massive impressive, especially going to his left, but it’s not a massive detriment either.

It’s a good thing that he can get to the rim, because he has virtually no outside game to speak of. He rarely shoots threes and when he does, they rarely go in. His mid-range jumper and free throw numbers are also incredibly poor for a guard, giving rise to very real questions about whether he’ll ever have enough of a perimeter game to make it at the NBA level. Defenses consistently are able to go under on ball screens, which dampens his ability to get inside, and his pull-up jumper is nothing to write home about. He actively avoided using it last season and with good reason: he made just 24 percent of his jumpers off the dribble in 2017-18.

Defensively, Taylor stands 6’3” without a plus wingspan and weighs just about 170 pounds. More than his perimeter game offensively, his perimeter defense certainly stands in the way of him becoming a full-time backup point guard on a good team or even breaking into a starting unit someday, and it’s very unlikely that he’ll ever get there due to his physical limitations. The acceleration, quickness, and athleticism that make him a decent offensive option translate defensively, but with a lack of length and strength, he has a ton of ground to make up to become a plus defender.

Whether Taylor gets a consistent role with the Cavaliers is an open question heading into the season and will likely depend heavily on the health and contract situation of the players ahead of him. Hill’s contract essentially expires after this season, so there may be a contending team out there who tries to take him off Cleveland’s hands, much in the same way the Cavaliers did when they brought him in from Sacramento last season. While speculative, that situation would open up the backup point guard role for Taylor to fill, which he can ably do with his ability to get to the rim and make the simple plays with the ball in his hands. On just a one-year deal with Cleveland, there’s almost no situation in which he supplants Sexton’s in the rotation, as the club has a much larger investment in Sexton’s future than Taylor’s. Still, as a third point guard on a minimum contract, the Cavaliers could have done a lot worse than Taylor and given his limited role with the team, the small investment is very unlikely to hurt them in any real way.