HOUSTON -- It was the fall of 2013 when Myles Turner, an elite recruit from Euless, Texas, and now a star big man with the Indiana Pacers, first noticed Isaiah Taylor on the University of Texas campus in Austin.
Taylor — now the newest member of the Houston Rockets — was about to enter his freshman year at Texas, while Turner was a 6-foot-11 high school senior and a crown recruiting jewel for then-Texas coach Rick Barnes. So it was on an unofficial recruiting visit when Turner first met Taylor, who would turn out to be his point guard with the Longhorns during the 2014-15 season.
But at the time, Turner wasn’t quite aware of who he was dealing with.
“When I took my visit to Texas, I thought he was a ballboy,” Turner told me with a smile before Monday night’s Pacers-Rockets game at Toyota Center. “That's kind of a funny story to this day that I joke with him about.”
“He came up to me and was like, ‘You wanna play horse?’ I was like alright, I'll play with the ballboy.”
It was perfectly understandable for Turner not to know, of course. Taylor was a wiry three-star recruit — low by Texas standards — and he wasn’t hyped by many around the program as a significant addition.
But Taylor has made a career of defying the odds. Despite the mediocre recruiting ranking, the 6-foot-3, 170-pound point guard worked his way into Texas’ starting lineup for three years — including a strong 2014-15 campaign playing with Turner. And even though Taylor went undrafted last summer after declaring for the NBA after his junior season, he’s since earned a three-year contract with the Rockets.
Turner, his former college teammate and now a good friend, wasn’t surprised in the least.
“I'm really happy for him,” said the 20-year-old Turner, who averages 15.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in his second season with the Pacers. “I hit him up as soon as I heard the news.”
The knock on Taylor has long been an inconsistent jump shot, and that was a big reason why he went undrafted in 2016. But Taylor has worked tirelessly to shore up that deficiency. In his time this season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers — Houston's developmental league affiliate — Taylor is scoring 20.6 points per game in 33 minutes, including impressive shooting numbers of 48.9% from the field and 40.8% from behind the arc.
“That doesn’t surprise me whatsoever,” Turner said after learning of Taylor’s shooting improvements. “He’s always in the gym. We used to get in the gym together late at Texas all the time. He’s one of the best guys I've ever played with, as far as personality and how he goes hard every possession.”
But in addition to his role as a scorer, Taylor also averages 6 assists per game. In chatting with Turner, the Pacers’ star big man expressed particular confidence in Taylor’s talents as a pure point guard.
“He’s fast, fast as hell,” Turner said. “He can create for other people because he draws a lot of attention when he drives the lane. But he's always looking, and he's got good size. He’s wiry, too. He’s got sneaky bounce.”
Taylor wasn’t the sexy addition many Rockets fans craved. After trading K.J. McDaniels and Tyler Ennis last week to open up additional roster spots, most expected GM Daryl Morey to chase proven veteran buyout options like swingman Matt Barnes and center Andrew Bogut — and with $3.5 million in cap room, the odds are decent that Houston can still land one impact player with that space. But with coach Mike D’Antoni already employing a 10-man rotation at times, it didn’t make sense for the Rockets to use both spots for veterans on short-term deals — especially if there aren’t available minutes for them to play.
So while one roster spot will still likely go to a veteran for short-term help, the most logical use of the other spot was for a longer-term play. That’s where Taylor comes in. He’s not expected to join the Rockets this season — after all, he’s still in his first year out of Texas, and plenty of work remains to be done on his jump shot and his role as a facilitator. (There’s also the matter of Houston’s currently loaded backcourt, with James Harden, Pat Beverley, Lou Williams, and Eric Gordon.)
But the Rockets now hold his contractual rights for three years, so they can be patient with his development. And whenever he ultimately gets the call to Houston, his former teammate predicts Taylor will absolutely stick at the NBA level.
“I know it’ll stick,” Turner said. “The way he works, it has no choice not to. He’s going to be a good player. I think he’s going to be a great player.”
The Rockets (42-19) return to action on Wednesday night vs. the Los Angeles Clippers. Listen to all of the action on your home for the Houston Rockets, SportsTalk790!