Back in the fall of 2018, Isaiah Taylor felt like he was the frontrunner to earn the Cleveland Cavaliers final roster spot.
He had signed a non-guaranteed contract with the Cavaliers that summer and was in line to be their third-string point guard behind veteran George Hill and rookie Collin Sexton. He had a solid showing during the preseason that year.
In three preseason games with Cleveland, his numbers didn’t jump off the stat sheet (4.7 points per game, 2.3 assists, 35.3 percent shooting), but he looked comfortable running the offense and pushing the pace.
With the 2018 preseason winding down, however, it was revealed that he had suffered a stress fracture in his left leg that would keep him off the court for at least one month. On the heels of the news, the Cavaliers made the decision to cut him.
Taylor ended up sitting out all of last season and was in training camp with the Toronto Raptors this season. He didn’t make the Raptors final roster, and it wasn’t until very late December that he was picked up by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, G League affiliate of the Houston Rockets.
He was actually still recovering from injury, and his first game with the Valley Vipers was his first time back on the court after quite some while.
“I was out for 14 months, I just got cleared not too ago. Just getting back out here on the court, I enjoyed it. It makes you appreciative,” Taylor told Ridiculous Upside. “When I was in Cleveland, I thought that was a done deal if I hadn’t got hurt, to be honest. I performed well in training camp and played well in preseason. That was just an unfortunate event.”
Before his injury in Cleveland, Taylor was seemingly on the verge of proving himself as an NBA player. He spent the 2017-18 season with the Atlanta Hawks after a brief stint with the Houston Rockets. He suited up in 67 games for the Hawks that year, averaging 6.6 points per game and 3.1 assists.
He started 13 games, however, for Atlanta that season and in those games, he upped his numbers to 13.2 points per game and 5.6 assists. Despite his strong showing during the regular season, he was cut by the Hawks in the 2018 offseason.
Although he hasn’t been able to stick with an NBA team yet, his play when given extended minutes has given him the confidence to believe he has what it takes to play at that level. He’s sure he can help an NBA team if given the opportunity.
“Just pushing the ball, I think I’m one of the fastest dudes in G League or NBA regardless, it doesn’t matter,” Taylor said. “Just bringing that swag, that toughness to a team, that fight. I think I’m one of those types of dudes. I’m always on the front line.”
This isn’t Taylor’s first time around in the G League. He actually started his G League career with the Valley Vipers during the 2016-17 season after he was cut by the Rockets. He missed a majority of that season with an injury, but when he did play, he put up 21.1 points per game on 49.7 percent shooting from the field, 41.3 percent from three-point range, and 6.1 assists.
When he returned to the Rockets later that season, he also had a few assignments with Rio Grande. This season, in his return to the Valley Vipers, he’s put up 16.3 points per game on 52 percent shooting from the field, 3.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 1.1 steals. Taylor hasn’t played in the G League in two years, but in that time he’s already noticed a big difference.
“It’s changed a lot from my rookie year. It’s a lot different. Being with RGV is amazing,” Taylor said. “I was with RGV my first year before I signed with the Rockets. The facility down there is amazing, you really can’t complain. The G League got a lot better.”
Now that Taylor is cleared to play and is back out on the court, he’s reflected a little bit on dealing with his injury. Not being able to play was tough for him, but while he was sitting on the sidelines he made sure that he was paying attention to the action on the court.
He studied some of the top point guards in the NBA and tried to incorporate what he saw into his own game. But he didn’t just limit himself to watching the top point guards, he made sure he studied the reserves as well.
“When I come on the court now, just sitting back and watching the game a whole year, I learned a lot,” Taylor said. “Watching different players, watching the Kemba’s, the Steph Currys, the backup point guards, whoever. Just seeing how they play the game, how they come off the pick and rolls, I applied that to my game on the court.”
As of publishing, the G League season is currently on hold due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, and it’s increasingly likely the season will be canceled altogether.
But before that, Taylor had a goal in mind, a goal that he hoped to reach by coming back to the G League. He’s confident that he can accomplish that goal.
“Just to get back into the NBA. Just get back in the league and show teams that I can play on that level,” Taylor said. “I don’t think it’s a question on if I can play on that level, it’s just staying healthy and staying consistent.”