Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Isaiah Taylor vs. Monte Morris

Tuesday night's game between Texas and Iowa State featured a match-up of two of the best PG's in the country, Isaiah Taylor (No. 53 in the 2017 mock on DX) and Monte Morris (No. 36 in their 2016 mock). Both juniors, Taylor and Morris have a ton of experience and they have gone at each other a lot in Big 12 play over the last few years. As you would expect in a game where two great PG's are running the show, both Texas and Iowa State's offenses were humming and the game came down to a wild finish, with the Longhorn winning 94-91 in OT.

From an NBA standpoint, it's always intriguing to watch two prospects at the same position go at each other and neither player disappointed on Tuesday:

Taylor - 28 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists on 1 turnover in 17 shots
Morris - 17 points, 5 rebound, 7 assists on 2 turnovers in 12 shots

They were guarding each other for most of the night but neither player really tried to force the issue in terms of going 1-on-1. They were both more content to take what the defense gave them, use ball screens and play within the flow of the offense. 

Taylor is a much better athlete than Morris

They are both about the same size - Taylor is 6'1 170 with a 6'3 wingspan and Morris 6'2 170 with a 6'5 wingspan - but Taylor is on a different level in terms of speed and quickness. Morris isn't a bad athlete by any stretch but he's just kind of a guy by NBA standards while Taylor would be one of the fastest guys on the court at any level of the game.

You can see the difference when they get into the lane. Watch Taylor push the ball in transition and draw the foul in the lane by hanging in the air:

Morris, in contrast, has a lot of difficulty finishing in the trees and he has to be careful to not get caught to far under the rim because there isn't much that he can do:

Morris doesn't have plus size or speed and it shows on D

Even though he has a decent reach, he has a hard time contesting shots on the perimeter. He might as well be a chair in this sequence for how much he bothers Javan Felix:

For the most part, Iowa State's defense was set up in a way that Morris was always able to send Taylor to help. Taylor did a good job of recognizing that, being patient and finding the open man and it shows how much he has grown as a player over the last few seasons. He was a lot more wild when he first came to Austin and he would have just put his head down and tried to score in traffic rather than accept the extra attention and make the easy play:

Morris is just kind of there on defense and Iowa State's inability to pressure the other team at the point of attack is one reason why they have consistently underperformed in the NCAA Tourney in the last few seasons. He will never be a plus defender at the next level and he will have to really work just to be average. It wouldn't be as big a deal if he were a 200+ pound guy who could throw his weight around but he has a pretty slight build.

Taylor's athleticism allows him to impact the game in multiple ways

Taylor was the best player on the court on Tuesday - he was flying all over the place and involving himself in the action on both sides of the ball. When he gets in transition, it's over. He's way too fast and he's too smart a player not to create an easy shot either for himself or one of his teammates:

 He doesn't need a lot of space to beat his man. He can beat a guy in one step and create separation in a phone booth. His combination of speed + passing ability means he's instant offense in the half-court, especially when he's playing in enough space:

Morris is a complete PG who plays under control:

It's just fun to watch guys who know what they are doing with the ball in their hands. Watch Morris set up the defense and create an easy dunk for Jameel McKay in the pick-and-roll:

Morris is great at the drive-and-kick game too and Iowa State is at their best when he's spoon-feeding their shooters for open 3's:

If you give him too much space or go under on the screen, he can drill 3's off the dribble (career 38.6% on 2.9 3PA's a game):

He has also done a good job of developing a floater off the dribble so that he doesn't have to go all the way to the rim on the drive. It's the ultimate little man shot and it's the reason Morris should be able to stick in the NBA despite his lack of elite athleticism.

Taylor's ceiling depends on his jumper:

The book on Taylor right now is simple. Play off him as much as you can and try to make him beat you from the perimeter rather than getting into the lane. The good news for Texas fans is that he's clearly putting time in the gym to improve his shot, as his 3-point percentages have improved every season - 26.3% on 0.5 3PA's as a freshman, 28.2% on 1.6 3PA's as a sophomore and 31% on 1.8 3PA's as a junior.

Taylor has the higher ceiling, Morris has the higher floor

It's very hard for a guard to survive in the modern NBA without a consistent 3-point shot. Just ask Michael Carter-Williams and Elfrid Payton and both those guys have a lot more size than Taylor. If you can't play off the ball and you can't punish a defense for going under the screen, it's pretty easy for NBA-caliber defenders to guard you. Taylor doesn't have the size or the reach of those guys either so it makes sense why he's considered a fringe prospect at the moment - it doesn't matter how complete your skill-set is in the modern NBA if you can't shoot and force a team to guard you 25+ feet from the basket.

If he can continue to improve that shot, though, he has everything else you would want in a starting PG. He doesn't have great size but he's fast enough to where he can get into opposing players on defense and not let them get comfortable. Combine his speed and passing ability with a consistent 3-point shot and he could be a starting PG in the NBA. If he can just make it enough to keep defenses honest, he'd be an interesting change of pace guard off the bench. He might as well stay in college until he's a senior because that 3-point shot is going to determine whether or not he can play in the NBA and it's not quite ready yet for prime time.

Morris, on the other hand, has already maxed out his game. He is who he is and he's not getting any bigger or any faster if he stays for his senior season at Iowa State. He might actually hurt his stock if Iowa State takes a step back without Georges Niang and Steve Prohm doesn't show the same facility of integrating transfers as Fred Hoiberg did. He's going to be a do-everything PG and put up good numbers regardless but I'm not sure if he would be as capable as Taylor of putting an NCAA team on his back and carrying them to respectability.

In terms of projecting him to the next level, he's a better version of Tyus Jones to me. He's a great backup PG but he doesn't have the physical tools to match up with the best players at the position on a nightly basis. He has the skill and the smarts to carve out a long NBA career for himself but guys who max out at backup PG can easily slip through the cracks. I think the way the league is going, you would rather run offense through a bigger wing on your 2nd unit and open up a spot in the rotation for a volume 3-point shooter like Ian Clark or Patty Mills to come in and hoist 3's really quickly. That's what I would want to watch with Morris - could he take and make a lot more 3's if he was in a different role where he didn't have to set up everyone and run the offense?

In that respect it's the same for both Morris and Taylor. The 3-point shot is going to affect just how good they are going to be in the NBA which makes sense when you consider how small they are. If you are going to be under 6'3, you had better be a great 3-point shooter if you want to play professional basketball at the highest level.

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