When the Houston Rockets' second-round draft pick Isaiah Canaan got a call-up on December 22nd, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers had to turn to Gary Talton - a 6-foot-1 guard out of the University of Illinois at Chicago - to replace him as the starting point guard.
Talton doesn't bring quite the same skills to the table as Canaan. The main knock to his game is that he's not a very good outside shooter, which is evident by his 11.9 points per game on just 33 percent shooting from the floor and 28.6 percent shooting from the three since becoming a starter. As a result of that, he started the 2013-2014 campaign at the end of the Vipers' bench, not knowing when he would be getting minutes for one of the D-League's hottest teams, which made him an unlikely candidate to get the promotion. However, he's now playing 35.8 minutes per night for the best team in the NBA's minor league and has made up for his shooting woes by piling on the assists, which has allowed the Vipers to maintain their high-octane offense.
The Vipers' offense is a perfect fit for a pass-first point guard, which is something Talton is quickly learning - as a starter, the former Flame is averaging 11.1 assists and just two turnovers per game. Scoring-wise, the Vipers haven't missed a beat, as they continue to light teams up even in Canaan's absence, which has a lot to do with Talton's unselfish play. He's been doing a great job of setting up the likes of Troy Daniels and Robert Covington for easy looks beyond the arc and has developed some nice chemistry with former Rocket Tim Ohlbrecht. And on Friday night against the Texas Legends, everything clicked for Talton and he had his best game to date.
In 46 minutes of play, Talton dished out 21 assists and committed just one turnover, putting him one assist shy of tying a seven-year old D-League record. He finished with a double-double by scoring 10 points, yet struggled to get there, knocking down just a quarter of his shot-attempts (3-for-12). That wasn't a problem, though, because he spoon-fed his teammates with good looks all night long and it ended up with another victory for the Vipers, as they beat the Legends by a final score of 115-109.
There's clearly a lot of work to be done with Talton. He's certainly not a finished product and for him to take his game to the next level, he has to develop a somewhat respectable outside shot. In saying that, he's shown an ability to slot right into a team and run an offense perfectly. Obviously the Vipers' shot-happy system is not conventional, but there's still a lot to be said for someone who has displayed an ability to set his teammates up in their sweet spots time and time again. Talton has shown great results as a starter thus far and he's someone to keep your eye on.