What’s a mystery wrapped up into an enigma? For Purdue basketball fans, it’s Jacquil Taylor. He came in as part of a loaded recruiting class that’s now preparing for their fourth and final season lacing up in the gold and black. Only, he won’t be done after this year. Foot injuries have side tracked Taylor’s last two years and forced him to redshirt his junior year.
Before Team USA’s silver medal run in Taipei, the last time Purdue fans got to see Jacquil Taylor on the floor was March 12th of 2016. That’s long enough to forget a lover, let alone a player who had never topped 100 minutes in a season. He wasn’t so much an actual person, but a concept, a thought experiment, an asterisk. He was Jacquil ‘if he could stay healthy he might provide us with something’ Taylor.
But after playing in all eight of Team USA’s games in Taipei and averaging over 14 minutes a game, it’s clearer now what that something could be.
Jacquil Taylor just needed to stay on the floor. That’s all we really needed to see to be happy, but he wasn’t simply a body behind Isaac Haas. He was really good.
Jacquil Taylor’s game is in a lot of ways the antithesis to Haas’s. He’s not large and plodding, but long and lightning quick. The comparison that kept coming to mind for me was Chris Bosh, at least on the defensive end. In eight games, Taylor collected a steal in all of them but one, averaging a steal a game for the tournament and half a block. When he came into the game, Purdue’s defense changed immediately.
Much like the Heat’s defense back in the day, Purdue could rely on a more aggressive style of containing the pick and roll - pick and rolls being the bane of Purdue’s defensive existence the last few years if there was one. Jacquil has the length and quickness to hedge hard and trap the ball handler, forcing a quick pass before any real danger can occur. But the even more important part about this scheme is that Jacquil actually has the quickness to not only hedge on the ball handler, but to get back to his man before any damage can be done. This allows Purdue to not have to switch their smaller player onto a post player.
But the other advantage of Taylor’s size and athleticism is if he does get switched onto a guard, he’s capable of sticking with him without allowing complete disaster in the form of an easy drive to the hoop. This is exactly what Purdue has to have this year. Isaac Haas is as punishing an offensive player as their is in the country, but he’s prone to getting picked on in pick and rolls. He doesn’t have the best awareness of his man when he’s corralling the ball handler and it allows for easy cuts for even easier lay ups at the rim. He’s not quick enough to recover when he makes even half of a mistake.
Teams that thrive with that kind of consistent pressure with high pick and rolls will lick their lips at the idea of a plodding 7’2” guy getting put into those situations over and over again, wearing him down while drawing fouls and getting clean looks at the rim. With Taylor, Purdue is capable of covering their biggest weakness up.
If that is actually their biggest weakness because Purdue lost their gold medal game to Lithuania because of rebounding just as much as pick and roll coverage. Jacquil Taylor is Purdue’s best rebounder. A skill that he’s shown consistently in the inconsistent minutes he’s been given through his career at Purdue. In his sophomore year, he grabbed nearly 20% of both offensive and defensive misses according to kenpom. This of course is a tiny sample size, but one that makes sense. Taylor is really long and really quick, and his main focus while on the court is attacking the glass. In Taipei he grabbed over two offensive rebounds per game and exactly 4 defensive rebounds per game in just 14.3 minutes per game. Rebounding translates from almost any level to the next. This is encouraging. There is a giant hole left behind by Caleb Swanigan leaving to go to the NBA and Taylor might be the best answer to filling it.
Offensive rebounds become even more important when you have a good offense. Those extra points will almost definitely lead to points when the big man is grabbing them for Purdue.
But Taylor’s game is not just rebounding and defense, something of a surprise was his ability as a passer. He averaged a modest 1.125 assists per game in the World University Games, but he did it while only turning the ball over three times in the entire tournament. A big man with a 3:1 assist to turnover ratio is invaluable.
And there’s flashes of a potential offensive power with Taylor. He showed off a nice turn around jumper and even hit a couple hook shots on post-ups. He will never be the traditional post-up like Haas but that’s a good thing. Instead, he’s the prototype for effective big man in the high pick and roll game. He can either pick and roll or pick and pop. His jump shot will only get better as he gains more confidence in in-game situations.
But that also means when he’s in the game at the five, the paint won’t be constantly occupied. That will leave the paint open for Carsen, Vincent, and Nojel to attack the paint without having to worry about a big man already being there waiting for them at the rim.
While the silver medal is the ceremonial reward for their trip to Taipei, it’s likely this revelation that Jacquil is more than just potential that will feel like the real trophy. If his play is a true indication of his effectiveness, he will not just be filler behind Haas, but someone who pushes for minutes from the back-up center spot. Something as Boiler fans we should all be familiar and excited about.
Taylor was always going to be a key this year. We just didn’t know what he could unlock. Now it seems like there might be a treasure behind the door.