With the season now officially underway, every team and every fan base â€” never mind there’s no hope for the Philadelphia and Phoenix fan bases until next July â€” believes their team has a shot at bringing the Larry O’Brien trophy and a parade to their city.
This is a fresh start for all 30 teams and all 433 players (yes I counted each name) in the NBA. One player who built up a following over the summer was Charlotte Bobcats forward Jeff Taylor.
Following a rookie season that saw the second-round pick impress anyone willing to tune in to the team that Jordan built, Taylor didn’t sit on his laurels and bask in his achievements. No, the former All-SEC player had one of the busiest summers of any player in the league. First was a stop in Las Vegas to play with the Bobcats summer league team and that was followed by a stint playing for his country, Sweden, in the 2013 Eurobasket.
We got a chance to talk with Taylor and pick his mind about the improvements to Charlotte’s roster, the team’s new head coach, his summer, his role with the Bobcats, guarding the game’s best players and of course the G.O.A.T., Michael Jordan.
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Dime: What’s it like to guard Carmelo Anthony, one-on-one with the final seconds ticking away?
Jeff Taylor: It’s a lot of fun. It’s why I love playing basketball. As a competitor you always look forward to moments like that. The game’s on the line and I’m guarding Carmelo Anthony â€” it’s just a lot of fun. It was just an exhibition game, but it’s still practice for the real deal and it’s fun getting those assignments and playing at the Garden.
Dime: How was the adjustment to the NBA as a rookie?
JT: It was rough at times, I had good periods and I had bad periods. Adjusting to the NBA, often times playing three to four games in five nights, it’s rough and as a player you have to find ways to motivate yourself and stay positive when things aren’t going well for you personally and as a team. I learned a lot and it was a great experience for sure.
Dime: Be honest, is the rookie wall real?
JT: I think it’s real. It varies from person to person, it doesn’t hit everybody the same way, some people get through it easier than others. I think all rookies get to a point where they look up and you feel dead tired like the season is about to be over, but you still have like 35 games left.
Dime: When would you say you hit your wall?
JT: Probably like around middle of January, somewhere around there, after New Year’s. You look up and there’s still a ton of games on the schedule and you already feel like you played an entire season; in college you don’t play more than 40 games, but it wasn’t too bad though.
Dime: Do you believe your preseason success, 11.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG and 45.7 shooting, will continue over into the regular season?
JT: I definitely see myself being somewhere around there. I can contribute in a lot of ways: On the defensive end I’m really good and I can shoot it, cut to the basket. I can see myself averaging about the same amounts.
Dime: What’s the Bobcats organization like?
JT: I love it here. Charlotte feels like home. I spent four years in Nashville, Tennessee and it feels very similar in Charlotte. Within the organization, everyone has been good to me from day one and they take care of us. Even though we’ve had some subpar seasons, the city still supports us and shows us a lot of love. I think a lot of people see we can be a good team this year if we bring everything together. There’s a lot of excitement within the organization and in the community.
Dime: Did you witness the Michael Kidd-Gilchrist vs. Michael Jordan one-on-one game?
JT: They played one-on-one in the post and it was Jordan against Gerald Henderson and Mike, Mike and Gerald would rotate guarding MJ. It was pretty crazy seeing MJ out there. He’s still pretty unbelievable. His turnaround jumper is still pretty unguardable, which is pretty crazy.
Dime: What do you think of Jalen Rose saying Jordan will come back for a game this season?
JT: I don’t know. I don’t think I can really speak on that, but I guess it would be amazing if he did because it’s MJ. I think that’s just speculation.
Dime: How will the addition of Al Jefferson help the team?
JT: A tremendous amount. Having him inside, a guy who can get 20 and 12 every night and demand double-teams. It’s going to make it a lot easier to get points and it’s going to make it a lot easier for the perimeter players on offense being able to cut and to play off Al. Having defenses focus on Al takes a lot of pressure off guys on the perimeter. We struggled scoring the ball last year, so now it’s great having a guy that you can throw it inside to and have him get a bucket. It’s rare these days to have an inside player that is that good with his back to the basket.
Dime: Now saying you had a busy summer is a tremendous understatement. What led to the decision to play for the Swedish National Team in EuroBasket this summer?
JT: I have wanted to play with them for the past few summers, but the timing just wasn’t right. I had the predraft stuff and all of that last year so I wasn’t able to do it, but when the opportunity came this summer and I knew I only had summer league to do and then I would be free until September I figured I might as well play. It was a great experience; it’s always great competition. A lot of NBA guys go to Europe and represent their countries in the summer. I felt like it would be good for me to continue on my summer developing and getting games in, it was a no-brainer for me.
Dime: Was it hard to become the “go-to” guy after playing a role for much of your rookie season?
JT: Scoring the ball and making plays happen, and things like that, has always been what I’ve done since I started playing basketball. It wasn’t hard at all. I just tried to do whatever my coach wants me to do and whatever that role is that is what I try to do to the best of my abilities.
Dime: Do you see yourself continuing to play for the Swedish team?
JT: Yeah I do. I enjoy playing and representing my country. I think it’s a lot of fun.
Dime: Do you think the 3&D label applies to you? And is it something you embrace?
JT: I think so, I’m a guy that can shoot it and I play really well on defense, so I’d say it fits. I think on a team every guy needs to know their role and what they need to do so I definitely embrace that
Dime: Who was your toughest cover last season and why?
JT: Probably would have to be Kevin Durant. He’s 6-11, can dribble, shoot; I mean he can do everything when it comes to scoring the ball. When he’s on he’s almost impossible to guard.
Dime: Do you foresee yourself as a player that will guard the LeBrons, Kobes, Carmelos and Durants of the league?
JT: Definitely. I have really quick feet, I’m strong, and I feel like I have a good chance at being able to bother them and making it tough on them.
Dime: In what ways have you transformed your game from last year?
JT: I wouldn’t say I transformed anything, I’ve just grown more and with one year under my belt I just feel more confident on the court. Coach Clifford has put me in spots where I can excel: coming off curls, coming off handoffs, catch-and-shoot, cutting to the basket. These are the things that I’m good at. On offense I’m being put in positions where I’m able to do what I’m great at.
Dime: What’s it like to have two coaches in your first two years in the NBA?
JT: That’s the nature of the business of the NBA. Some guys get drafted and then they get traded, that’s just the way it is. You adapt to change and it’s all part of being a professional, but I’m very happy with the coach we have now.
Dime: How has the adjustment to new coach Steve Clifford gone?
JT: From day one he was straight up with us in terms of what he wanted and what he expected from us. I love having a coach that tells you what he wants out of you and what he expects and then demands that from you every day. And I think every player would want a coach like that.
Dime: What should we expect from the Bobcats this year?
JT: I think we’ll be much improved. If we play the way we’re capable of I think we can bother a lot of people and we’ll be a bit of a surprise
Dime: What’s it like to get to witness the rookie hazing instead of being part of it?
JT: The guys on the team last year, they took it kind of easy on Mike and me last year. They didn’t really make us do a lot of things like other teams. Our vets were pretty good with us, so I guess I had it easy. The most embarrassing thing we had to do was probably dance at half-court in front of a crowd before the season started.
Dime: Any wise words of advice for newest rookie Cody Zeller based off what you learned last season?
JT: Have confidence in yourself, there’s going to be ups and downs and you’re not going to be playing great all the time.
Dime: What are your impressions of Zeller through training camp and the postseason?
JT: Cody’s very athletic, he can shoot the ball and drive it, he’s a smart player and I think he’s going to be very good.
Dime: What are your personal goals for the season?
JT: Just to continue to improve on my rookie year and all I’ve done this summer and be out there and be able to contribute to the team’s success.
What do you think?
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