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March 2, 2012

Measuring Taylor

Filed under: Basketball,Numbers,Players — Chas @ 11:21 am

God I love revisionism.

The comments about how Coach Dixon has wasted Taylor. Played him out of position and stunted his development are hilarious. Just because of the stars he had as a recruit, and the “All-American” designation. Or the comments from 2009, by his high school coach. An argument that entirely ignores Taylor’s poor defense, generally, and the potential nightmare of him trying to actually stay with power forwards moving around the court and dragging Taylor behind them.

For three years, we have seen Dante Taylor make incremental progress from his freshman year to the present. The opinion generally has been that he has been a bust. Call it semantics if you wish, but I think he’s been disappointing, not a bust. He still has another year, and I think he’s been weighed down by being designated as a McDonald’s All-American. It now is used against him as a pejorative

Still, maybe one side has a point over the other. Both sides believes Taylor should be better. The issue is, should he be better because the coaching staff failed him, and Dixon played him at center rather than power forward? Or is it that Taylor just isn’t as good as everyone thought and never was?

Since so many like to toss out that designation as a representation of Taylor’s potential, here’s the list of Big Men from the 2009 McDonald’s All-American Game Roster:

Derrick Favors (South Atlanta, GA) (C) Georgia Tech
Alex Oriakhi (Tilton School, NH) (C) UConn
Ryan Kelly (Ravenscroft School, NC) (PF) Duke
Milton Jennings (Pinewood Prep, SC) (PF) Clemson
Dante Taylor (National Christian Academy, MD) (PF) Pittsburgh
DeMarcus Cousins (LeFlore, AL) (PF) Kentucky

Keith “Tiny” Gallon (Oak Hill Academy, VA) (C) Oklahoma
John Henson (Sickles, FL) (PF) UNC
Wally Judge (Arlington Country Day, FL) (PF) Kansas State Transferred to Rutgers
David Wear (Mater Dei, CA) (PF) UNC Transferred to UCLA
Travis Wear (Mater Dei, CA) (PF) UNC Transferred to UCLA
Renardo Sidney (Fairfax, CA) (PF) Mississippi St.
Mason Plumlee (Christ School, NC) (PF) Duke

Quite the murderer’s row, no? Notice Thomas Robinson is not on this list. How are they fairing?

First, here are the basic numbers for Taylor this year: 19.3 minutes/game, 6.5 points and 5.6 rebounds

Went pro: Favors and Cousins are the only one-and-dones in this bunch — that actually produced. Gallon left after a year, mainly because of scandal.

Contributors: Ryan Kelly is averaging 25.8 min /12.2 pts/5.5 rbds. Alex Oriakhi has been up-and-down all three years at UConn — presently down (20.6/6.9/4.8). Milton Jennings is solid, and unspectacular with 26.0/9.7/5.6.

Key player: John Henson is a big part of UNC’s team this year. He has 14.4 points and 10.3 rebounds and nearly 30 minutes a game. As has Mason Plumlee at 10.8 points and 9.4 rebounds with 28.2 minutes per game.

Transfers: The Wear boys are nearly identical. Travis: 25.9/11.4/5.7.  David: 27.9/10.6/6.1.  Wally Judge sat out this season after 2 years at K-State and will be a Scarlet Knight.

Team Cancer: Renardo Sidney can claim to be “contributor” level on the court with 23.1/10.3/5.3 numbers. But his suspensions, fights with teammates and all the other baggage takes away so much more.

Well, based on that, Taylor is still lagging, but it hardly appears to be that vast a gap. He and Oriakhi are almost equal this year. Taylor plays the fewest minutes of the eight players left.

I’d be curious to see how the numbers would compare if run through the tempo-free stat grinder. I would guess, Taylor would be even closer to those in the Contributor level.

There’s no easy answer in my view. He also has one more year left. I don’t expect all that many to change their view — regardless. Taylor will definitely see some opportunities at PF next year with Gilbert developing and the arrival of Adams. He will have his chance to play both spots.

If Taylor does well at PF, then those who now argue he always should have played there will claim victory. If he doesn’t, they will argue that he was never given a fair chance based on the previous years.

On the other side if Taylor improves as a senior, those who have seen him as a bust, will claim argue he finally had the light go on and that it wasn’t unreasonable to label him a bust in the past. If he doesn’t change much from the past numbers — well, he is still a bust.

Regardless of where he plays, his play on defense remains the biggest weakness.





My goodness Chas, are you a glutton for punishment or what, opening up an entire post on this!
You present a very well-reasoned view of this “debate.” What bothers me most about those who proclaim Taylor’s been misused/miscast is how easy an argument that is to make because we will really never know. And those in the “drop 20 pounds” category don’t seem to consider how common it is for all players to add muscle and bulk up, regardless of position. The fact is this: Taylor has been inconsistent and has not met expectations. That puts him on par with about hundreds of other players in the nation, even McD’s all-americans.

Comment by JW 03.02.12 @ 11:37 am

Since we get so few of these stud players, a miss really gets magnified. If Taylor was with Carolina, people would hardly blink, let alone blame the coach.

Comment by Chuck Morris 03.02.12 @ 11:46 am

And maybe the real question is whether he ever deserved to be a McD AA in the first place. Reasonably athletic big men just overwhelm their peers too easily at the HS level to be accurately calibrated until they get to college.

Comment by San Diego Panther 69 03.02.12 @ 11:57 am

Pitt just needs a more consistent Taylor to show up next season. I would think that 8 points and 8 rebounds per game with more playing time is reasonable to ask. Pitt doesn’t need him to be a superstar…never did.

Comment by TX Panther 03.02.12 @ 12:13 pm

The argument that you put muscle on and and it puts weight on you is fallicous. You turn high school baby fat into muscle without weight gain. The tranference from fat to muscle creates stamina, improves strength. Putting 20 lbs on a body frame that can not handle the weight will impair any atheletes performance unless he is an offensive lineman.

Whether Taylor would have shown what he did in high is a mute argument. However to claim that playing the 5 is the same as playing the 4 and that adding 20 lbs would have no influence on your game is certainly not true. Ask anyone who has played competitive sports.

Comment by drw 03.02.12 @ 12:25 pm

He has been a bust compared to expectations rightly or wrongly put on him.

A bust, with some glimmer of hope at certain times. Has had some good games, seems like a good kid.

Don’t buy the out of position. Maybe he was, that tells me he hasn’t learned much in 3 years, if that was the case??

Also, yes positioning matters, however, there are tons of times during games where a guy “is not in his position”. i.e. a PG under the basket, a PF at the top of the key, a C at the FT line,etc. etc.

There are plenty of oppurtunities, to showcase your skill set, even if you are “out of position”, and frankly, I haven’t seen any of that skill set to say he would thrive at PF.

Not worried about the argument, who’s right or wrong, I’m cheering for him, Dixon, and Pitt to “just win baby” next year.

No matter where he’s at, I hope we get back on track, and that’s all I’ll be cheering for!!!

Comment by Dan 03.02.12 @ 12:29 pm

Great post. Jim Bowheim a few years ago said that the McDonald’s all American designation was meaningless and lot of the kids weren’t very good. But the label does create out sized expectations.

Taylor has improved and is a serviceable player. He’s just not the star we and I’m guessing Dixon hoped for.

Comment by Velvil 03.02.12 @ 12:30 pm

If — a big IF — Taylor makes a step forward next year, we’re gonna have to all consider context, especially on defense which is so dependant on team interaction instead of one-on-one skill.

To be clear, that’s no excuse for Taylor’s poor D. I think its just that he’s looked worse this year than he would have if the team was more solid defensively.

Comment by PantherP 03.02.12 @ 12:32 pm

Chas – we need to add a poll feature to the site. First poll question:

Dante has not lived up to expectations PRIMARILY because:
1. Expectations were too high, development has been about right for his talent, skills.
2. Coaches misused him (ie played out of position, not enough pt, etc.)
3. Coaches didn’t develop his skills.
4. Injuries limited him.
5. He didn’t work hard enough.

Interested in opinions.

Comment by boubacar aw 03.02.12 @ 12:45 pm

My opinion, it is mostly #1.

His skills didn’t transfer to college ball the way most thought they would, mostly because he isn’t big enough to be a center and not athletic or skilled enough to be a PF.

He has made slow, steady progress while at Pitt. Injuries and coaching have played a role in the speed of his progress. I do not think for a minute that the kid is a malcontent or didn’t work hard enough.

Also, those who think we’re going to see a magical transformation next year when (if) he plays the four haven’t really been paying attention. He lacks the footwork and lateral quickness to defend on the permiter and lacks the ball skills (pass, dribble, shoot) to be effective on the offensive end. Whether he had those skills before coming to pitt or not, he doesn’t have them now to the ability necessary in this offense.

Zanna, who is not without his own set of issues, is better suited to the four than Taylor.

I hope I’m wrong.

Comment by boubacar aw 03.02.12 @ 12:47 pm

I’m pretty sure you can add both muscle and weight over two or three years, especially to a 6-9 frame. Twenty pounds may be a big deal to you and me and yes many other “competitive sports participants,” but these elite athletes routinely put 10-15 pounds on during the offseason. And I’m talking even shooting guards, etc.

Ok, enough weight talk. It’s bad enough I gotta hear it from the lady of the house all the time too!

Comment by JW 03.02.12 @ 12:50 pm

Lets not take this blog seriously becuase it is false. As a former basketball player I know that weight training for BB players is completely differnt than for football players. The purpose is to tone muscle turn fat to muscle not not add weight. Added weight on any BB player is a quick road to injury in additon to the obvious effects of reducing his vertical leap, his quickness on his first step and his ability to defend. Not to mention reduction in stamina.

A pefect example is when Blair started out quick last year at San Antonio and was inserted as starting center. By the end of the season he was back on the bench limited to 15 minutes a game – he had gained 20 pounds and he bacame ineffective and he was being considered as trade bait.

Put 10 pounds on Moore move him to a position that he was unfamiliar, guard, that weight would limit the skills he has.

So it is unfair and uninformed to say that if Taylor had played the 4 as he had his entire career and maintined his weight but toned the 220 or 225 to muscle that he would not have dominated as he did in high school.

Comment by drw 03.02.12 @ 12:51 pm

One thing that has been mentioned here but discussed at length is how much Taylor may have been playing with injury this year. I was first alerted to this when I heard an interview with Brandin Knight on THe Fan back in January when he said that Taylor never publicly complains but has had ongoing back and knee issues last year an especially this year.

I do know that he has had a couple streaks of good games and a couple of streaks of bad games this year … how much can be contributed to health is unknown

Comment by wbb 03.02.12 @ 12:52 pm

@JW LMAO!!

Comment by Dan 03.02.12 @ 12:53 pm

sorry to beat this one over the head but it is so slanted. (Ihave been as dissapointed in Taylor as anyone/but this year brought my attention to the fact that many of Pitt’s problems are from coaching- turnovers and not recruiting a true center until this year since McGhee). Of all the McDonalds All-Americans, those who succeeded and those who did not Taylor was the only one forced to play a position completely different thanm the one he played in high school, AAU, and in the All-Star game.

Comment by drw 03.02.12 @ 12:57 pm

@DRW, a lot of us on here played basketball, football and baseball before.

Comment by Dan 03.02.12 @ 12:58 pm

And to anyone that didn’t, their opinion is just as valued and respected as anyone elses.

Comment by Dan 03.02.12 @ 1:00 pm

Adding muscle weight does not make a person lose quickness, lower vertical leap or increase risk of injury. Nor can you turn fat into muscle.
A properly trained athlete can get much bigger and maintain or increase quickness, jump and decrease injuries. Look at NBA players. Most are much bigger than their college days.
That being said, even if Taylor took mass quanities of steroids he still would not be quick enough for forward. He is what he is.

Comment by notrocketscience 03.02.12 @ 1:03 pm

Does grade school and horse count?

Comment by TX Panther 03.02.12 @ 1:33 pm

Leave Sleepy alone.

Comment by steve1 03.02.12 @ 2:00 pm

I have two questions about McDonald All-Americans:

1) Is the award given for (a) how well the player does in high-school or (b) how well the player projects to the next level?

2) How does the answer to question #1 inform our judgement of Taylor and/or the coaching staff?

Comment by ME 2001 03.02.12 @ 2:27 pm

The answer is option #6 == Dantes’ talent evaluation was over-rated. 3 seasons @ PITT & we are still trying to figure out what the coaches saw in this player. What part of his game gave any indication of future potential?

Comment by DC33 03.02.12 @ 2:35 pm

I am soory if I offended I had no intention. However the question about his potential may have been from scoring 16 points in the Mc all-star game and winning the skills contest against some of the best players in the land. Aslo UConn wanted him badly. This does not mean he would not have failed if he had got to play at the 4 – a point ignored throught this argument.

I think that Dixon was covering his butt by saying in Taylors freshman year when everyone wanted to se him at the 4 it was too complicated to learn both the 5 and the 4. Remember after McGhee Pitt failed for three years to recruit a ture center and was forced to move Taylor to the 5. Again he was the only 2009 all-american forced to play a position that is completely different in character than he played in high school.

The class before mine in high school had 2 6-11 identical twins who went onto to play at top D1 colleges and one was a back up in the pros. I can say without question Taylor was much more skilled then either of them but they played the 5 since the beginning. If we had one of them this year despite our guards we would have one at least 5 more games.

Comment by drw 03.02.12 @ 3:34 pm

I thought the award for McDonald’s All American had to do with how many Big Mac’s you could eat in an hour!

Seriously though, it is near impossible to tell exactly how a player’s high school skills transfer to NCAA play. The book on Dante is far from closed. My criticism of Dante has nothing to do with his lack of talent but more on his standing around, not boxing out, and making stupid clumsy mistakes. On the other hand, I wish I had a $5 note for every pass he has recieved that bounced off his anklea…or every pass that was not thrown to him in the post when he worked hard to pin his defender…

DRW – Great comments about the press and weight training for bball players. Did you coach also?

Comment by Dan 72 03.02.12 @ 3:40 pm

@DRW, you didn’t offend anyone, you’re good.

I just cringe when I hear someone on a talk show say, “when I played football”.

No problem, you’re good, you made some good points.

Comment by Dan 03.02.12 @ 4:41 pm

A good topic of discussion where the best answer is probably a combination of all the alternatives.

I find the extra 20 lbs argument pretty laughable. While adding 20 lbs (especially not muscle – like a gut) more than your body frame can best support will absolutely lower quickness and jumping. To say that is absolutely true about a 6’9″ athlete who was pretty skinny and weak as a freshman is pretty subjective.

There are a couple hundred players in the NBA who have done this without losing a step. I think Sam Young and Gilbert Brown at Pitt are both good examples. Compare photos of them from freshman to senior years. They added a lot of muscle.

Was he misused? Maybe.
Could he play the 4? He has shown no ability to play defense at the 4 yet…
Have injuries hurt his play and development? It really looks like it.
Was he over rated? Really looks like it. I sure don’t see the skills…Would love to find video of that skills contest.

But does he seem to be a team player who tries to get better? I would say so.

Here’s hoping he plays to the best of his ability for the rest of his career…

Comment by Bolwing Green Panther 03.02.12 @ 5:06 pm

It will be interesting to see how Pitt/Dixon incorporates Adams into the offense next year. It’s been awhile since they ran much through a big man. Blair was so great positionally it almost doesn’t count. Will they get Adams touches and let him work ala Gray? Because they certainly haven’t even tried with either McGhee or Taylor, and especially when watching in

Comment by JW 03.02.12 @ 6:39 pm

person you can see them working hard in the low post.

Comment by JW 03.02.12 @ 6:40 pm

Notrocket, you make a great point. Its a great misconception that fat turns to muscle, just as its false that you can lose fat in on specific area of your body. Also, adding muscle does not make you slower. Last year i started lifting and throughout the year i added about 10 lvs of muscle. I was faster, quicker, more athletic, and had better endurance than ever before.

Comment by Pk 03.02.12 @ 10:26 pm

Maybe Chas will devote the next thread to explaining why this is really a well coached team and their pathetic performance trying to break a press is failed player execution and not poor coaching.

Comment by Old School Panther 03.02.12 @ 11:04 pm

McDonald’s AA Guards > McDonald’s AA Big Men. The best players on the best teams on this list are guards, not these guys. Taylor’s not a bust, just a disappointing big man. Basketball is now a little-man’s sport.

Elite guard-play has consistently been Pitt’s undoing in the NCAA’s. They need elite guard play to have a Final Four team.

Comment by apm74 03.03.12 @ 3:03 am

As for the poll question, I agree that it’s a combination of things.

As for development, I know this is college and there is limited time for practice, etc., but how much focus do coaches put on working with individual players? From what I gather, the guys who made big leaps – Young, Gray in particular – did so by really working hard on their own. I see a player like Nas – and I’m a broken record on this – but I can’t understand how Dixon could have allowed one of his players to go 4 years without ever developing a 10-15 foot jump shot. Isn’t some of that on the coach?

The same with Woodall’s poor left hand, and with Taylor’s failure to put on muscle. Is Dixon telling these guys, day in, day out, where they need work and is he taking steps to make that happen?

And I do have to dispute whether Zanna is more suited for the PF than Taylor. He is faster, but from what I can tell, Taylor shoots just as well. Zanna has ZERO basketball instincts, though, and he has no toughness. Taylor has shown flashes of skill and desire. If he can channel that, he could be a serviceable PF, albeit one who has some defensive weaknesses.

Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how things develop next year. Greentree should be particularly fun to watch this summer.

Comment by Carmen 03.03.12 @ 8:38 am

#4 for the poll question.

Comment by Gordo 03.03.12 @ 11:06 am

and a good post!

Comment by Gordo 03.03.12 @ 11:07 am

Carmen, any high school player has a 10 foot jump shot. I’ve got a feeling Nas has a case of the Chuck Knoblauch yips.

Comment by steve1 03.03.12 @ 11:26 am

JW I hope they use Adams alot more than Gary because Gary at this moment (as a backup pro center) is not the player Adams is right now.

Another point about Jamie coaching up players is that that at 7’0″ with a big body if Gray had started as a sophmore and played as many minutes as he did as a junior his statistics probably likely would have matched his Junior season.

The argument about Taylor and All-Americans comes down to this and I think we would all agree we would opt for 5 and 4 star players over players rated lower. No certanties but I would take that chance.

Good point about all-american guards being ahead of big men. This is the argument about being played out of position. Rarely do you see a forward moved to a guard in college if they did they would probably fail. Like centers they have developed their games at the lower levels for the next step. Forwards come in varying sizes and abilities with ball handling and offensive skills or lack of them. Often they have simply overwhelm opponents because of their height and have not developed offensive skills away from the hop. True centers are use to playing with their back to the basket so like guards they have a better chance in the transition.

Comment by drw 03.03.12 @ 11:35 am

The coach cannot teach a player passion. If a player plays with passion, shortcomings are often not as glaring. In my opinion someone needs to have a heart to heart with Taylor and explain what passion can do to his legacy.

If he commits to getting in the best shape and going all out on defense and offense next year, he will exceed expectations. I say that with great confidence because his big men supporting cast next year with Adams will allow for a huge season. He just needs to decide internally if he wants to be a superstar or not.

Sounds easy, but getting a bunch of kids that are catered to in everything they do is more of a task than many believe. The difference in great kids and average kids is mostly mental. You can’t teach passion and grit. That comes from within. The coach needs to communicate that to the kid. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, he was still a serviceable, average player. Notice, I referenced him as a kid because he acts like one. When he realizes his window is closing, he will either continue to behave as a kid or grow into a man that looks at his profession, prepares harder than anyone else and has no regrets. Right now, he will have regrets in five years when he is pulling in $75k, when he coulda, woulda, shoulda been making $1m

Comment by dhuffdaddy 03.03.12 @ 11:39 am

Today was a perfect snapshot of Sleepy’s career, he followed up his big game (of course it was against the freshmen of St.John’s), with a scoreless performance today. This guy and most of the Pitt players are very inconsistent, which probably has more to do with the caliber of the competition than anything else. Need massive of infusion of talent, not just Adams & Robinson, imo.

Comment by Emel 03.03.12 @ 4:55 pm

After much consideration of the salient points both in this article and the comment section…..zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Comment by Anthracite and Soupies 03.04.12 @ 9:53 am

Dan72 – Great point. Watching the game yesterday… Taylor had perfect position – defender was off his right hip pinned to the baseline. Woodall stood there dribbling… watching… then threw the ball back out top. WTF??

That’s coaching.

Comment by John Ramella 03.04.12 @ 10:38 am

Umm you didn’t comment about Derrick Favors and DeMarcus Cousins both of whom are contributors to their respective NBA teams not to mention Mason Plumlee who also developed quite nicely at Duke.

Comment by turnerjoy 03.04.12 @ 6:50 pm

San Antonio was lookin to trade Dejuan Blair?

Comment by Tsingtao44 03.04.12 @ 9:45 pm

I think that it is a combination of Taylor and Dixon not handling him properly. Taylor during the later part of this season started to assert himself offensively, however, before then he just wasn’t. However, the offense for the last 3 seasons has been pass to Gibbs and there really hasn’t been any inside offensive player development. Think about it, McGhee wasn’t an offensive treat and neighter was Zanna or Robinson. So if anything you can blame the coach for not running plays for Taylor and having the offense run through him at times. There were times were Taylor had established position in the post and yet Pitt settled for an Aston Gibbs contested three. Hopefully next season without Aston Gibbs, the offense will run through Taylor/Adams/Zanna since Pitt’s Strength will be inside.

Comment by MuddiePitt99 03.10.12 @ 9:30 pm

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