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Bobcats’ Jeffery Taylor looking to make a summertime leap

Scott Fowler
sfowler@charlotteobserver.com
Scott Fowler is a national award-winning sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer.

When Jeffery Taylor looks around for an NBA player he would like to emulate, he doesn’t have to go back very far.

In fact, he only has to return to the most recent real NBA game played. It was there, in the final game of the NBA Finals, that a more high-profile player with Taylor’s same skill set showed his worth.

“I definitely think of Shane Battier,” Taylor said Monday. “He is known as a defensive player who can shoot the ball. You saw him in Game 7. There are a lot of ways you can impact a game in basketball. For me, it’s my defense and my shooting ability.”

Taylor would love to have a career like Battier, the former Duke star who has played for 12 years in the NBA. Battier was crucial to Miami’s Game 7 win over San Antonio with sticky defense and six well-timed three-pointers.

For now, though, Taylor is just trying to make a leap from Year 1 to Year 2 with the Bobcats. Taylor was a decent rookie in 2012-13 – averaging 19.6 minutes, 6.1 points and 1.9 rebounds. But he had stretches where he seemed to disappear on the floor. He will play for the Bobcats’ summer-league entry starting Friday in Las Vegas.

Taylor is known inside the Bobcats’ locker room as one of the best athletes on the team. At 6-foot-7, with a sleek defensive quickness, he can guard just about anyone besides a true center and is particularly adept as a wing defender. When I asked him to name the toughest three players he guarded extensively as a rookie, his answer revealed just how much the Bobcats asked him to do last season.

“Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Tony Parker,” he said.

But Taylor’s athleticism doesn’t always translate to his offense. Taylor shot a respectable 34 percent from three-point range as a rookie. But if other teams overplayed him to shoot the three, he frequently would just give the ball to someone else. Although Taylor certainly has the ability to slash to the basket and showed it in college – he once scored 30 points against a good Davidson team -- he didn’t finish that often at the rim as a rookie.

So this offseason for Taylor has been partly an exercise in “What happens next?” when a defender comes rushing out at him, hand extended, at the three-point stripe. He has worked on “off-the-dribble stuff,” as he called it. One-dribble pullup jumpers. Two-dribble forays into the paint.

“Sometimes as a rookie I just sat back,” Taylor said. “This year I want to be assertive. There were some shots I passed up last year that I probably should have taken.”

Defense, though, is what will get Taylor on the court. With the Bobcats seemingly committed to 2012 No.2 pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at small forward, Taylor’s minutes will likely come more often at shooting guard.

Taylor grew up in Sweden. He is the son of a former basketball player who briefly played in the NBA, then went to Sweden to play and ended up staying there after marrying a Swedish woman. Taylor, who speaks both Swedish and English, is the oldest of six siblings.

In high school, Taylor moved to New Mexico – where his father Jeff had grown up – to improve his basketball acumen. He earned a scholarship to Vanderbilt, where he starred. The Bobcats took him No. 31 overall in the 2012 draft.

“To me,” said new Bobcats coach Steve Clifford of Taylor, “he can build his game around his defense, his shooting range and his intelligence. He’s bright. He’s been in here every day. He’s working hard. He’s on his way to having a good summer.”

And if Taylor really can make a summertime leap, he could be one of the X factors on this season’s Bobcats.

Scott Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler

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