Evan Taylor is an unabashed "Game of Thrones" fanatic, drawn to the development of the HBO fantasy drama's characters.
“You feel connected to them,” he says. “Most TV shows have a big plot, but 'Game of Thrones' has a million little plots, and it’s about power and strategy.”
Which brings us to the NBA G-League. As in "Game of Thrones," there are a lot of players plotting how to acquire power through performance and ultimately land in the NBA. You know many of the characters because they were high-profile athletes in college.
To wit: Taylor was popular at Nebraska, playing two seasons in Lincoln — 2016-17 and 2017-18. This season, the 23-year-old guard played for the Agua Caliente Clippers, the Los Angeles’ Clippers’ G-League affiliate. The team is based in Ontario, California, 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
If an Agua Caliente player is looking to raise his profile, he would do well to play well when Jerry West is watching. West, a high-profile consultant for the Los Angeles Clippers (his fingerprints are all over the organization), attended several G-League games this season.
But the G-League never will be mistaken for the NBA. Taylor makes that clear. In fact, Isaiah Roby, the Nebraska junior forward considering an early jump to the NBA, would do well to pick Taylor’s brain.
It’s possible Roby, if he decides to leave school, would be drafted and immediately land on an NBA roster. But there’s also a decent chance he’d start out in the G-League, even as a draft pick.
“I guess one of the cons is flying commercial because at Nebraska we flew charter everywhere and were able to leave right after games,” Taylor said. “In the G-League, you have to leave the next morning. But I went to junior college, so a lot of stuff doesn’t really bother me, if I’m being honest.”
A December road trip was particularly rugged.
“I got really sick,” Taylor said. “We had a game in Iowa one night and I played 42 minutes. The next morning, we rode a bus four hours to Sioux Falls. It was like negative-1 degrees. I was throwing up at halftime. But it was cool. We were all there together."
The 6-foot-5 Taylor averaged 3.7 points and 1.4 rebounds for a team that finished 26-24. Most G-League players earned a base salary of $7,000 per month for the five-month regular season, which ended in March.
But NBA teams were allowed to have two players on G-League rosters who had two-way contracts. Two-way players were guaranteed at least $77,250, even if they strictly played in the G-League. They could earn up to $204,000 if they spent the maximum of 45 days on the NBA roster allowed by the contracts.
Taylor this season was the only former Husker in the G-League.
“Everybody feels like they’re one step away from the NBA, which you are," he said. "So everybody’s like, ‘I want to take that next step.’ Everybody’s going to play hard, everybody’s going to give you their best because opportunities come fast and go fast."
With life-changing money at stake, it’s easy to imagine players playing more selfishly than they would ordinarily.
“That’s on any level of basketball,” Taylor said. “Of course, the higher you go up, you have people who have big egos. That’s something you’ve got to work around. But the people who are successful are the ones who understand if we do it the right way and we win, good things will come for us all because we’re doing it the right way. People can see that.”
Taylor was a team-first player at Nebraska, which explains why he was a captain in 2017-18. He always played hard, always brought positive energy. Even though he’s a long shot to make an NBA roster, he’s close enough to the big time to feel the energy it produces.
“I’m one step away from the NBA, but one big step,” he said.
If Roby landed in the G-League, his step may not be so big at all. He’s 6-foot-8, 230 pounds and has a 7-foot-3 wingspan. He’s a quick jumper and literally took over a few games this past season. But you thought you might see greatness more consistently.
He entered into the NBA Draft pool after averaging 11.8 points and 6.9 rebounds. He has until May 29 to decide to return to school.
“I met Roby when he was a freshman,” Taylor said. “The older he’s gotten, he’s figuring it out for himself. It makes me really happy to see because I know he’ll be an NBA player one day, a good NBA player. He has the talent. It’s just, can he stay healthy? Hopefully, he can, God willing. He has the work ethic.”
Roby might need patience. He’s 21 years old. Think about what his game will look like when he's 25.
“I would tell him what I’d tell anybody: Never let your situation deter your love for basketball,” Taylor said. “Your love for basketball is what’s going to allow you to keep making progress."
“It’s really about him believing in how good he can really be,” Taylor added. “I still don’t know if he understands how good he really is.”
You hear that about Roby constantly.
“Part of that is a result of his youth,” Taylor said. “When you’re a pro, everybody’s confident. And they’re confident for the right reasons — because of how hard they work.”
Taylor felt this season like he had to prove himself every day. That’s a beautiful mindset, the sort of mindset that could someday propel Roby into the world's highest level of basketball.