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How Terry Taylor is playing big for the Pacers

A 6’5 undrafted two-way player is giving the Pacers big minutes inside.

Denver Nuggets v Indiana Pacers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Terry Taylor, an undrafted rookie on a two-way contract with the Indiana Pacers, is listed at 6’5; Buddy Hield, for example, who has expanded his game since being traded to Indiana, is measured at nearly the same height, standing just an inch shorter at 6’4. According to Basketball Reference, both players also allegedly play the same position: shooting guard. And yet, to watch them play on the same team, with Taylor attempting 85 percent of his shots as twos, of which he’s converted 68 percent, ranking among the top-10 of players — including guards, forwards, and yes, centers — with at least 100 tries, it doesn’t remotely feel as though they are the same size, nor operating similarly even when operating out of similar plays.

To be fair, injuries have certainly played a part in why Taylor is playing bigger for the Pacers than his shorter stature might otherwise suggest. On Feb. 2, when rookie center Isaiah Jackson went down with an ankle injury in a game against the Orlando Magic in which Domantas Sabonis (health and safety protocols), Myles Turner (stress reaction), and Goga Bitadze (foot soreness) were already unavailable, Taylor finished with 24 points and 16 rebounds while playing predominantly at nominal five. Two nights later, when the same names once again appeared on the injury report, the 22-year-old big in a guard’s body started opposite of Chicago’s Nikola Vucevic, snaring 14 rebounds in 38 minutes to go with 21 points.

Taken altogether, Taylor has started five games in the frontcourt for the Pacers, averaging averaging 16.2 points and 7.2 rebounds on 63 percent shooting, including during last Wednesday’s near 31-point comeback against the Denver Nuggets, in which head coach Michael Malone referred to Indiana’s anomaly in post-game media availability as a “man-child.” For a player who last season led all of Division I in double-doubles, that single, hyphenate word better describes Taylor’s game, as a 6-foot-5 roll-man and putback machine, than any position.

Just take a look at these clips. In both instances, a touch screen is being set for the ball along the sideline, but whereas Buddy Hield uses the separation gained from a switch to wheel deeper into an obstacle course for three, Taylor immediately darts to the rim and relieves congestion with all the benefits of a tweener, arriving at his destination faster than Orlando’s Mo Bamba can rotate while also finishing over the smaller Jalen Suggs.

Per Synergy Sports, Taylor has used 16 percent of his possessions this season as a screener, with the majority coming on rolls (62.9 percent), on which he’s tallied 32 points on 22 possessions (1.455 PPP) — a tiny sample size which may seem unremarkable if not for the fact that of the 98 players who have rolled as or more frequently than him on the same or greater number of possessions, only two are his same height, with an average efficiency of 1.08 points per possession, and none are shorter.

Along those lines, Brooklyn’s Bruce Brown, who evolved last season to fill gaps around Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden as a 6’4 short-roller, stands out as a current, inch-for-inch contemporary, but he’s shifted between roles more this season with less spacing and made just 36 percent of his 135 floaters, according to InStat, which has likely contributed to his dip in efficiency (0.87). By comparison, Taylor typically dashes clear to the basket, occasionally bending match-ups along the way.

For example, consider this late-game possession against the Washington Wizards. At first glance, with the Pacers leading by two with under 1:30 to play, it seems only natural that Deni Avdija, as a stout isolation defender, is matched-up with Tyrese Haliburton. But, here’s the thing: Washington spent the entire game switching, so as soon as someone for the Pacers screened for the ball, Avdija would no longer be guarding Haliburton, which is exactly for what the Wizards were planning.

To understand why, look back at the film from earlier in the second half, when Taylor was catching the defense off guard by slipping at the exact moment when the switch was occurring; again, either finishing over or detonating on the rotating defender.

For that reason, while Washington’s defensive execution clearly wasn’t flawless, Avdija matched up with Haliburton not so much to defend Haliburton, but to protect against Taylor on the slip, creating a more difficult passing angle for Haliburton, while also staying nearer to the basket. Let that adjustment sink in for a minute. After all, Taylor isn’t some hulking behemoth. Whenever he approaches Haliburton as the screener, they’re capable of looking each other straight in the eyes. They’re the same height! And yet, the Wizards altered what they were doing from minutes earlier, when Avdija was roaming off Lance Stephenson as a clunky shooter, to contend with what might precipitate from Haliburton-Taylor pick-and-roll.

Then, in what normally would be a rebounding advantage for a big over a guard trying to box out from the switch, Taylor pinned Avdija — not Corey Kispert — under the basket, converting the putback for the two- possession lead.

In that regard, what Taylor lacks in inches against opposing frontcourts he makes up for with core strength and dirty work. There’s no glamour in transforming into a brick wall, but Stephenson has a clear path to the basket, here, because Taylor rolls after setting the screen and seals Mo Bamba, without budging an inch despite being seven inches shorter.

Just for point of reference, this is Goga Bitadze nearly being folded in half and causing a collision while attempting to wall off the same defender, albeit with his back to the basket.

Of course, whether executing subtle screening techniques or inhaling every offensive rebound in sight, Taylor is no stranger to leveraging contact. While on the floor, he’s grabbed 14.5 percent of Indy’s misses — one of the highest individual numbers in the league — and he’s shooting 66 percent on putbacks, per Synergy Sports.

That’s absurd. These are not easy shots. They are oftentimes rushed, contested by mountainous bodies, and he’s making 66 percent of them! In part, because he’s broad and has a longer wingspan (7’2) than former teammate Domantas Sabonis (6’11), while possessing similar ferocity and understanding of angles. That combination of attributes is what allows him to set up a barricade from the perimeter, before demonstrating the sense and footwork to create space, essentially executing a reverse Mikan drill with his strong-hand against the reigning MVP, rather than attempting to power up through his body.

Man-child, indeed. That said, perhaps the greatest testament to his skill-set is how much his teammates trust in it. Like most teams, when the Pacers set consecutive screens for the ball, the first screener pops out to the perimeter and the second screener rolls. With that in mind, take a look at who the roll-man is designated as, here, even though an actual center, Goga Bitadze, is on the floor.

Given that neither player is necessarily more effective than the other as a shooter, that arrangement alone says a lot, as does how Lance responds next, putting the ball up high off the glass, basically taking a miss in a play billed as “Kobe assists” by ESPN’s Kirks Goldberry, with full confidence that Taylor will either haul in a second-chance or get fouled.

All of which is to say that, as the Pacers prepare to enter an offseason of possibilities, Terry Taylor has made a case for being considered among them. As applies to the waning quality of the defense as a whole, more fully-formed, assembly will be required to paper over what may get surrendered against frontcourts capable of shooting over the top, but for a 6-foot-5 shooting guard defined by what doesn’t define him, Taylor isn’t just a quirky roll-man; he looks capable of potentially playing a spot role — man.