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Northwestern basketball player previews: F Nathan Taphorn

What even is a zone defense, really?

NCAA Basketball: Massachusetts Lowell at Northwestern Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016-2017 season is a crucial one for the Northwestern Wildcats and head coach Chris Collins. Collins enters his fourth year, and the general consensus is that his program has to show significant signs of progress in order to reach the ultimate goal of making the NCAA tournament by the target year of 2018, when his first recruiting class will all be seniors. Collins has high expectations of a talented bunch of players, and they’ll need to show his expectations are not unfounded. With that, we run through every player on the roster this season. Next up is Nathan Taphorn.

Who he is:

Senior | Forward | 6-foot-7 | 215 pounds | Pekin, Ill.

The numbers (2015-2016 season):

Points Minutes Assists Rebounds Blocks Off.Rating FG% 3pt FG% eFG% Usage
4.9 11.8 .667 2.3 .3333 110.5 .448 .403 .603 20.5

Shot chart:

Via Shot Analytics

Chris Collins put Nathan Taphorn into games to shoot threes, and that’s what he did. Taphorn shot 40.3 percent from three and hit some big shots when necessary. He basically took no midrange jumpers and was a below-average finisher at the basket. He needs to shoot more consistently from the right side of the court.

The basics

Putting Taphorn into a game is a double-edged sword. While he undeniably provides offensive firepower off the bench with his ability to shoot threes and space the floor, he does very little else on the court. His defense was abysmal, and he never really learned how to play Northwestern’s zone-man hybrid last season. Taphorn isn’t good enough to get consistent minutes at the three or the four, which leaves him as a “positionless stretch something” who can’t really play defense. That is useful when you need a big shot to stay in games or want to surprise a defense, but it doesn’t really work for any extended periods of time. That’s why he only played in 24 games last season.


Taphorn can hit boatloads of three-pointers when he’s on, and that remains his greatest skill. Taphorn didn’t shoot 50 percent from beyond the arc like he did in 2014-15, but he still shot over 40 percent with a higher volume of shots, which was fine. Most viewers don’t notice it, but Taphorn also does a fairly good job of rebounding when the opportunities are there — he had nearly the same defensive rebounding percentage as “noted rebounder” Sanjay Lumpkin. Also, he managed to get 8 blocks last season, which is rather amazing when you consider he’s 6-foot-7. He’s a good athlete vertically.


Once again, Nathan Taphorn looked allergic to proper defensive positioning last year. He allowed so many easy backdoor cuts, open threes and easy layups that he couldn’t feasibly take the court in any crunch time situation. He doesn’t have the lateral quickness to defend in one-on-one situations. And despite an uptick in three-pointers and minutes, his offensive efficiency dropped from 2014-15. Taphorn is also bafflingly mediocre from the stripe despite being a pure shooter. Also, basically all of his stats were racked up against teams like SIU-Edwardsville.


Much has been expected of Nathan Taphorn in the past, and apart from a few great performances in non-conference play, he didn’t really deliver last season. Although we can quibble with Chris Collins’ allocation of minutes, I think we can generally agree that when he hands out seven DNPs in Big Ten games, he’s onto something good for the team. Taphorn basically disappeared from the team after the Michigan State/Iowa debacles, and it was pretty clear that he couldn’t hold up against tougher competition when you watched him on defense for more than 30 seconds.

If you think about it, Aaron Falzon is basically supposed to be a combination of Taphorn and Lumpkin (a.k.a. a real power forward). If Falzon develops from last season, which will need to happen for the team to be competitive, Taphorn’s role will only diminish further. He will continue to come off the bench as a spark for the offense, but I don’t see a Taphorn renaissance in the cards for 2016-17.

Bryant McIntosh | Scottie Lindsey | Vic Law | Dererk Pardon | Aaron Falzon | Sanjay Lumpkin | Barrett Benson | Isiah Brown