Heading into the 2015 season, Northwestern features one of its deepest teams in years. While head coach Chris Collins has said his preference would be to play only eight or nine players, he acknowledges that he might have to coach this Northwestern team a lot like Iowa's Fran McCaffery has coached in recent years, using a deep bench. At least at the onset, few players -- other than the Wildcats' established starters -- have appeared to separate themselves. Thus, we are going in-depth on each of Northwestern's scholarship players, providing insight into each players' potential role.
Up now is junior Nate Taphorn:
Stats to know
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Shot chart (via ShotAnalytics.com)
To the modern basketball mind, Nate Taphorn's shot chart is a thing of untapped beauty. The 6-foot-7 shooter, albeit with a somewhat limited volume, was a highly efficient shooter from behind the arc.
Alex Olah feature
In his sophomore season, Taphorn evolved into a more reliable shooter for the Wildcats. He contributed more points and made a larger impact. Despite his increased efficiency, Taphorn still played limited minutes.
Just over 55-percent of his shots came from three-point range and he managed to get to the basket three times more than he did his freshman year. His high field goal percentage resulted from better shot selection from a greater variety of locations over the course of the season.
Taphorn was fairly consistent last year for Northwester but his minutes were not. He only had a few big-impact games as his minutes fluctuated. Head coach Chris Collins played Taphorn fewer than ten minutes in eleven contests throughout the season, but as the season progressed, played him for more than fifteen minutes in five of the last seven games.
Taphorn also missed the team's trip to Spain in August with a stress fracture in his foot, but Collins said he is back to 100 percent.
As a freshman he shot 24 percent from three-point range, making up 79 percent of his total shots. Last season, though, he was a more efficient three-point shooter. He had eight more shots on the season but scored 36 more points.
Part of this is due to his shot selection. Three point shots only made up 55.7 percent of his attempts and he was able to make it into the paint more. He shot 63 percent at the basket compared to 51 percent from behind the arc and 42 percent from mid-range. It is important to note that, while Taphorn is a shooter, he is more effective at the top of the arc rather than the corner.
His ability to change games as a shooter, even in relatively short stints, makes him very important to the Northwestern's rotation, according to Collins. Every time Taphorn hits the floor, Collins said, opponents have to make an adjustment.
As exhibited by Taphorn's fluctuating minutes, his shooting can be streaky. He scored five or less points in five straight games on two occasions last season. During those streaks he was a combined 3-for-14 from three-point range. This shooting inconsistency has led Collins to be reluctant in playing him extended minutes.
At 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds, Taphorn has good size and athleticism, but he still has a ways to go defensively and on the glass. Taphorn was better as a wing defender in the 2-3 zone than he was in straight man-to-man, but he still was a bit of a liability. As a rebounder, Taphorn has a long way to go. His defensive rebounding percentage was just 7.5 percent. By comparison, fellow Northwestern forward Sanjay Lumpkin, who is a few inches shorter than Taphorn, rebounded at a 14.1-percent rate.
Taphorn will continue to be a role player off the bench for Northwestern. As a knockdown shooter he will compete with freshman Aaron Falzon for minutes on the wing. After improving so much last season, this could be Taphorn's breakout year. He likely won't average more than 13 minutes per game but he should be able to fill his bench role and be extremely efficient as a knockdown shooter. Collins needs to find a way to fit him into Northwestern's system to maximize his impact, especially late in games.
What to expect
It is widely agreed upon that Taphorn should have seen more minutes last season because he was often the most efficient outside shooter on the court. With Falzon joining the team this season, Taphorn will have some competition for minutes as a taller three-point-shooter. So far in Taphorn's two seasons with the team, Collins hasn't quite found a way to capitalize on his efficiency and shooting ability consistently. With more shooters, including Taphorn, Northwestern will be able to spread the floor and add a dynamic element to their offense. Even if Taphorn's minutes and ball touches don't increase, his shooting, athleticism and size make him extremely useful to Collins and he should continue to contribute solid minutes and give the offense a scoring boost off the bench.