Taylor assists with leadership

Jordan Taylor can play coy all he wants, but the notion that this season's Wisconsin men's basketball team is "his" team to run is thriving. And the mantle is well-deserved.

While Taylor is careful to acknowledge the leadership from this season's large senior class, he is speaking loudly with his play on the court. On Saturday the junior point guard came within a few inches (literally) of Wisconsin's first-ever triple-double, posting two career highs with a 20-point, 11-rebound and nine-assist masterpiece.

Known for his loose, even comedic personality, you probably will not see Taylor bark at other teammates on the court or scream at the top of his lungs after a big basket. Some might lament the fact that those traits, exemplified by past leaders like Trevon Hughes, Brian Butch or Alando Tucker, are noticeably lacking on the current squad.

However, it is nearly impossible to overstate Taylor's importance to this year's team. His calm confidence on the floor and ability to put teammates in a position to succeed are actually fun to watch. I'd say watching Taylor lead the Badgers is approximately 71% less frustrating than watching the boom-or-bust Hughes over the past few seasons.

What might be most enjoyable is how Taylor arrived at his totals in the flow of the game this weekend. I'm a bit ashamed that I did not even realize how close Taylor was to reaching the historic milestone against South Dakota until the very end. But one thing that did not escape me was how Taylor seized all the right opportunities to push the tempo, almost always finishing strong at the rim. At times it seems that his 6'1", 195-pound frame allows him to finish in the lane better than anyone else on the team -- Jon Leuer included. Taylor led the Badgers with eight points in the paint against the Coyotes.

Putting others in a good position to score has always been Taylor's calling card. Heading into a three-game stretch against the state's other Division I programs, Taylor is dishing out 4.5 assists per game and maintaining a low turnover rate even while raising his scoring to over 15 ppg this season. To put that in perspective, consider that Taylor could post the highest assist average since the Tracy Webster days over 15 years ago if he continues on his current pace. And he's doing that within an offense -- and with scorekeepers -- notorious of late for keeping assist totals low.

If Taylor can simply repeat his assist totals from last year (118), he would be knocking on the door of the school's all-time top ten in the category with one full year remaining. With the uptick in his playing time so far, that seems very reasonable.

More important than personal stats is the example Taylor's style of play sets for the younger players around him. Taylor's giving mood seems to have rubbed off on his teammates. The Badgers have 126 assists as a team through eight games, up from 110 a year ago at this time -- or exactly two more assists per game.

But maybe it's just the house statisticians feeling a bit more giving themselves.

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