If Isaiah Taylor indeed goes through with his NBA dreams, his final game in a Texas jersey will be one where Texas lost on a half-court buzzer beater.
It doesn’t have to end that way, though. The junior guard has the ability to return for a senior season in Austin but announced last week that he will declare for the 2016 NBA Draft.
Taylor won’t hire an agent, meaning he still has the ability to opt out of the draft and return to Texas within 10 days of the NBA draft combine.
Regardless, Taylor should return to Texas for one last ride — not because of what he can give to the Longhorns, but because of the jump in his game he can take.
The surface numbers say Taylor is already improving his game. Last season, the first under head coach Shaka Smart, Taylor averaged 15.0 points, 5.0 assists per game on 42 percent shooting from the field. All were career highs and Taylor earned a spot on the All-Big 12 first team.
His speed gives him the ability to get to the rim at will, but the one thing that is clearly not NBA-ready is his jump shot. Taylor shot 31.1 percent from the 3-point line — which is an improvement from his freshman and junior campaigns, but still not NBA-ready.
The raw talent is there, but one more year under Smart can help Taylor harness it and grow other areas of his game. He would follow in the footsteps of recent Big 12 players who stayed in school for four years and improved.
Oklahoma senior guard Buddy Hield is a projected lottery pick in this year’s draft after averaging 25.0 points per game on 49.6 percent shooting overall and 46.4 percent from three. Those numbers are all up from his junior season, where he averaged 17.5 points on 41.6 percent shooting and 37.1 percent from three.
Then there’s Iowa State forward Georges Niang, who averaged 19.8 points, 6.2 rebounds on 54.7 percent shooting for his senior year. All up from his junior year stats of 15.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 46.8 percent shooting. His 3-point shooting was down, but he still shot a respectable 38.1 percent from deep.
There’s no guarantee Taylor becomes a high first-round pick by returning to Texas like Hield. But right now, he’s not exactly high on anyone’s mock draft.
Returning would give Taylor a chance to improve that stock, and, most importantly, his game.