RENO -- Jeremy Lamb. Perry Jones III. Daniel Orton.
To most casual NBA fans, the aforementioned trio simply represents a selection of the league's up-and-coming talent. For each youngster, it'll take time before they are able to comfortably make positive contributions in the Association.
But for a D-League rookie, playing alongside such assignees is like hitting the hardwood with a trio of all-stars. So far this season,Tulsa 66ers' point guard Tony Taylor Jr. has been reaping those very benefits.
Since being selected by Tulsa in the second round of the 2012 NBADL Rookie Draft, Taylor has emerged as quite the floor general, connecting the dots for the array of players who come to town on assignment from the Thunder. In addition to Lamb, Jones III and Orton, the likes of Reggie Jackson and DeAndre Liggins have also donned 66er uniforms this season.
While playing his collegiate ball at George Washington University, Taylor was looked to as his team's leading man. It's a role he embraced with open arms, but with so many versatile scorers on the 66ers, the point guard is now learning how to lead in quite a different way.
"I've learned a lot since getting here," Taylor said. "I'm learning how to be more a point guard, as opposed to a combo guard. There's so much I'm taking away from my coaching staff and the players around me."
Being able to efficiently run the floor is a feather that is ever so necessary in Taylor's basketball cap if he hopes for an NBA future. With so many offensive juggernauts already gracing the NBA hardwood, it's those very players who complement others well and fill certain voids that big-league executives turn to the D-League in hopes of finding.
The point guard seems to understand that, knowing full well that his job becomes easy with talented players around him. By helping them look good, he too shines in the process.
"It's a lot easier when I can just dump the rock off to a big fella like Daniel Orton and have him dunk it down. I like coming off a screen and being able to hit a guy like Jeremy Lamb behind the three-point line, because he'll knock it down every time," Taylor said.
Having so many offensive weapons at his disposal has been a dream come true for an up and coming prospect like Taylor. He's been able to put on display his savvy playmaking abilities, all the while still serving as a scoring threat on his own. The floor general's primary duties may indeed be to distribute the ball and get his teammates involved, but Taylor still has the ability to spread the floor and keep defenses honest. In addition to averaging 6.3 points and 3.5 assists per game, the GWU alum is doing so while shooting 45 percent from the field, 41 percent from deep, and 81 percent from the free-throw line.
Though his stats are steady but not yet overwhelming, numbers may not tell the whole story. Seeing and believing is often the case when it comes to recognizing Taylor's skills. He knows how to set the tempo offensively, speeding it up or slowing things down as necessary. Averaging just 23 minutes per game, the guard has been forced to take a back seat at times to assignees or existent NBA veterans on the roster.
But he still manages to reward his team whenever he does hit the hardwood. (Taylor has played in all 18 of the 66ers' contests this season, starting 13).The more Taylor plays, the better the 66ers do. He's an efficient plus/minus player, and though veteran Chris Quinn may have recently joined the team, it's making more and more sense for Tulsa to pair the two guards together on the court.
"I lean a lot from Chris," Taylor said. "We do a lot of things in practice together. There are a lot drills that are just he and I. The communication is there because if one of us sees something, we'll make sure to tell the other. He's been a great support and is helping me become a better point guard."
Being able to play alongside a player like Quinn may allow Taylor to display a more versatile game, but rising up as an efficient playmaker is what will likely garner him more NBA attention. Playing for the Thunder's minor league affiliate, Taylor has a long-list of impressive point guards that have come before him, like Russell Westbrook, Eric Maynor, and Jackson.
But similarly to their assignees, Oklahoma City may in fact be also grooming the 66ers' top talents for future roles. Taylor beamed about being a part of the organization, saying, "We go to a few Thunder games here and there. We pretty much run all their sets. The Thunder franchise does a great job of putting us in great situations where we're able to learn and do community service. The people of Tulsa have been so supportive and are always happy to see us. There's a great correlation between the two teams."
Donning a D-League is simply a logical step in Taylor's continued basketball journey. This past summer, his aggressive attack to the basket helped him impress NBA teams like the Knicks and Celtics during offseason workouts.
Playing in the NBADL is undeniably a good look for the young gun, however. In the summer, he may have turned some heads by starting to put his potential on display. In the minors, though, he's only further proving to executives why he may be a good fit for big league teams in the future. The way he's improved and come into his own as a floor general has made him an ideal type of player for what the D-League aims to produce. By bettering his game and thriving alongside a bevy of NBA talents in Tulsa, Taylor could be someone who will be capable of filling a void for a big league team sooner than later.