Jeffery Taylor of the Charlotte Bobcats Will Be Biggest Steal of the 2012 Draft

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Jeffery Taylor of the Charlotte Bobcats Will Be Biggest Steal of the 2012 Draft
Curtis Wilson-USA TODAY Sports

Is it too early, and maybe a bit too bold, to go ahead and say Jeffery Taylor, the second-year shooting guard/small forward out of Vanderbilt will be the biggest steal of the 2012 NBA draft?

Maybe. But I don't care, because he's the real deal, and there are many teams in the lower half of the first round of last year's draft who are going to look back and wonder why they didn't pick him.

Somehow, Taylor managed to fall to the second round, where the Charlotte Bobcats, despite already drafting an uber-athletic SF earlier in the draft, promptly drafted him with the first pick of the round. 

At Vanderbilt, Taylor was an insanely athletic swingman who showcased an excellent shooting touch beyond the three-point line and a terrific ability to cut to the basket. He was one of three highly touted Vandy prospects who entered last year's draft.

The other two, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli, both had skill sets that could make them valuable role players in the NBA. Jenkins is a pure shooter with excellent range, while Ezeli is a solid 7-footer who can come off the bench and grab some rebounds and play tough defense.

But neither were, or are even remotely, as complete overall as Taylor. Yet Jenkins was drafted 23rd overall (by the Atlanta Hawks), while the Golden State Warriors selected Ezeli with the final pick of the first round, one slot ahead of Taylor.

There were plenty of head-scratching picks in the lower half of the draft. Taylor, after a strong four years at Vanderbilt and an excellent combine showing, was considered a guy who could possibly sneak into the teens.

Virtually no one thought he'd make it past the first round.

And while many of the prospects picked in the late teens all the way through the end of the first round haven't, and quite possibly will never produce, Taylor had a solid rookie season with Charlotte.

His insane athleticism, good shooting skills and excellent defense all had Charlotte fans watering at the mouth, and while he never quite found his grip in his first season as a true scorer, that could very well change in 2013-14.

Taylor's Las Vegas Summer League breakout wasn't particularly surprising to anyone who had seen him play prior to this summer. Everyone knew he had the ability to be a very big scorer with his athletic prowess and shooting touch. Taylor averaged 20.3 points in summer league, shooting 47.5 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from three-point land.

He was considered one of the best performers in Vegas and, along with teammate Cody Zeller, made the Las Vegas Summer League All-Star team

Yes, it's summer league. We all know that, so before you start rattling on about how there's no way he's going to score 20 per game in the regular season, let me go ahead and cut you off by saying, "duh."

Taylor's not going to start for the Bobcats this season. Along with backup combo guard Ramon Sessions, Taylor will likely be used as a sixth man to back up Gerald Henderson at shooting guard and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at small forward, and he'll likely earn a few spot starts for the team here and there.

He'll also be a key player if an unfortunate injury strikes the team.

Taylor's biggest weakness last season wasn't skill or athleticism; it was merely getting a feel for the NBA pace and building confidence.

With the 15 pounds he added this offseason while training (yes, a good 15 pounds, not a Sean May 15 pounds), and what appears to be a new "killer instinct," Taylor will be immensely valuable for the Bobcats this season, and he should be viewed as one of the key players for this franchise moving forward.

Taylor's scoring output could as much as double from the 6.1 points he scored last season, and he'll likely do it more efficiently, while wowing crowds with dunk contest-style plays. 

Taylor should have gone higher in the draft based solely off of his ability to defend on the wing, where he demonstrates excellent lateral quickness. He rarely gets beat playing man-to-man defense. His athleticism should have bumped him up even higher in the draft, and his jumper should have given him yet another bump.

In my final mock draft, I had Taylor going 19th. I don't recall seeing a draft that had him going below 25th or one having him being selected behind his two Vanderbilt teammates.

While the teams that passed over him will shake their heads as they realize what a gem they missed, the Bobcats (and soon-to-be Hornets) will revel in the fact that they acquired the best pick for value in the entire draft.

Taylor looked like a man possessed during summer league, posterizing players who got in his way and showing off his range. His confidence is clearly not an issue anymore.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

There shouldn't be a question that Taylor was the biggest steal of the draft. That ship has sailed. The only question is, how good will Taylor actually become?

My guess? If he keeps up at the pace he's going, with his unreal physical and athletic gifts, he'll be a starter on the wing and up for discussion as one of the most improved players this season. He'll eventually be a guy who can put up 18-plus points per game and take games over when he's hot.

Charlotte absolutely must seize this opportunity to further develop Taylor. While I firmly believe re-signing Henderson was imperative and that MKG is still the unquestioned starter at SF, the Bobcats must find a way to give JT 25 minutes per game this season, so he can continue to grow his confidence.

He's a crowd-pleaser when he gets eye level with his explosive dunks, and he's both a defensive and offensive weapon. The Bobcats received a gift at pick No. 31 last year, and they must not squander it.

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