The role, the confidence, the fit, all of them are all together now, obviously, because Deshon Taylor is making very good use of every minute he is on the court.
Since entering the Fresno State Bulldogs’ starting lineup five games back, Taylor has averaged a team-high 35 minutes and 20.4 points per game while adding a good number of rebounds and assists, and at the defensive end steals in maintaining the nasty presence that led to his shot at more playing time.
He is, point guard Jaron Hopkins said, all riled up: “He’s being more aggressive. He’s attacking. He’s getting into guys defensively.”
Since joining the Bulldogs’ starting lineup, Deshon Taylor is leading the team in minutes, points per game and steals, and is second in 3-point field goal percentage and tied for second in assists.
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Taylor in those five games has scored more points (102) than he had in the first 17 games (88) – and he has been efficient doing it, shooting 53.2 percent with six turnovers in 175 minutes. Those numbers hint at how much ground he has covered in a short time. Two games into the season, coach Rodney Terry had Taylor by his side after a loss to Prairie View A&M at the Save Mart Center and he singled out the 6-foot-1 sophomore guard as the only one on his team playing at that time with the requisite juice, energy and urgency.
That did not gain Taylor more playing time, though. Taylor got fewer minutes in the next game, a victory over Lamar, than he had against the Panthers.
The only times he matched the 24 minutes he played against Prairie View A&M and the only times he scored more than 10 points in a game were in blowout victories over Menlo College and Holy Names, NAIA and NCAA Division II teams.
Before, between and after those two games, he played 15 minutes in a win at Oregon State, six minutes in a win at Drake, and 13 in a victory over Cal Poly.
He got four shots up at Marquette, two the first time around against Nevada.
Terry, who had Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson for three years and recruited and developed Marvelle Harris, the Bulldogs’ all-time leading scorer and the Mountain West Player of the Year as a senior, said it was simply growing pains.
A guy’s role starts a certain way and by the time the season ends it’s a matter of what they put into it, in terms of how much their role expands. He has put more time into it and now it’s showing with his game.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
Taylor walked on at Fresno State after spending his freshman season at Missouri-Kansas City, sitting out the 2016 season under NCAA transfer rules.
He lit up practices a year ago on the scout team, but didn’t play in any games.
“He’s a young player,” Terry said. “He’s not a senior. Young players are always scratching and clawing to find consistency.
“I think early on he was still trying to find his way. I think it was shaking off some rust and playing in game situations and trying to figure out, ‘Hey, what’s my role? What’s my niche on this team?’ He is really buying into that role. Early in the year, his role was to come in and be a guy that brought energy, played defense for us, and any scoring was a bonus. But he has put more time into it and now it’s showing with his game.”
That bit of history got a wry smile from Taylor after the Bulldogs beat Air Force on Wednesday, their fourth win in five games since he entered the starting lineup along with Sam Bittner at the four and freshman Bryson Williams at the five.
“I had some rough patches early in the season,” Taylor said. “I wasn’t playing comfortable. The coaches were telling me I needed to shoot the ball, but I was playing like a pass-first player. Sometimes, I’d go in and pass the ball. Sometimes, I’d have an open shot and I’d drive and turn it over. I just had to get comfortable playing in the system.”
Taylor, Terry said, practiced and worked his way into the starting lineup, building on the one constant in his game: his defensive presence.
I wasn’t playing comfortable. The coaches were telling me I needed to shoot the ball, but I was playing like a pass-first player. … I just had to get comfortable playing in the system.
Fresno State guard Deshon Taylor
“He has worked really hard on his ball-handling and his decision-making, and that has really helped him,” Terry said. “We knew he was going to be a defender for us. That was going to be a big part of his role. But a guy’s role starts a certain way and by the time the season ends it’s a matter of what they put into it, in terms of how much their role expands.
“He has put more time into it and now it’s showing with his game.”
“It was kind of hard,” Taylor said. “I had to accept my role, so I just played my role and the opportunities came where coach needed me to play defense.”
The points, assists and offense have spun off of that.
In his first start, against Boise State on Jan. 14, Taylor scored 19 points with six rebounds and four assists. But two of the biggest plays he made in that victory came at the defensive end, drawing charges in the first half that got the Broncos’ point guard in foul trouble and off the floor.
“My coaches believe in me; my teammates believe in me. When I go out there, I feel comfortable playing,” Taylor said. “When I go out there I know I have to play defense, and good defense leads to good offense.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. SAN DIEGO STATE
- Saturday: 4 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 14-8, 6-4 Mountain West; Aztecs 12-9, 4-5
- Webcast/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Notable: San Diego State halted a two-game skid Tuesday, beating Wyoming 77-68 while getting 18 points from Trey Kell and 17 from Malik Pope. The Aztecs lead the conference in scoring defense by a sizable margin, allowing 63.2 points per game, with Boise State next at 68.8. They also lead the Mountain West in field-goal percentage defense (39.2) and are second in steals (7.2) behind the Bulldogs (8.8).