Examining Duke’s Jayson Tatum
In a stacked NBA draft, it is increasingly hard for prospects to stand out. It seems like almost weekly a new player is all the rage and rising up draft boards, and a lot of that can be attributed to the young age of most top prospects now. They are all a work in progress, and noticeable jumps are consistently made throughout the year that can change your perception of what a player is capable of. While the 2017 class is particularly top heavy with guards, there are a couple of wings who have the ability to be “the guy” for their new team.
This new age NBA requires certain things from a potential “star” wing, including:
- Scoring demeanor: You want the player to seem as if they want the responsibility of the scoring load for their team. Think Kevin Durant at Texas, or whatever the exact opposite of Andrew Wiggins is.
- Efficiency: Players score in college often times through sheer size. While having an NBA body can get you by in college, you better be able to get buckets with poise and proficiency when everybody’s huge. To fit the new-age NBA, preferably a player can competently shoot the 3 and get to the line.
- Good Form: The 3-point line is going to be a bit further away when college players make the jump to the pros. Having a smooth, consistent jumper will allow shooting coaches to constantly improve the players range through practicing, while generally leading to better free throw rates and shooting percentages.
- Size: This is where a difference in slight measurables becomes most noticeable. An extra inch of wingspan and standing reach can be the difference between a player being beaten around corners by a faster man and poke steals, or contested jumpers and finger-tip blocks.
- Aggression: I’ve seen too much of Jahlil Okafor slowly rotating over only to half-ass a block attempt. Give me the player with the pitbull mentality 10 times out of 10 over the pure measurables guy. This is where a Marcus Smart type player makes his money.
- Switchability: This is sort of an extension of the size category. As scoring totals balloon and shooting ranges keep expanding, being able to constantly switch defensive assignments makes playing team defense much simpler, as we’ve seen with the Warriors and Jazz.
With that being said, lets talk Jayson Tatum, and how he fits each of these requisites for a draft prospect. You don’t need to watch a ton of tape on Tatum to see his scoring ability and aggression. He is built in the mold of a true go-to player, one who will go get his bucket when a play falls apart. His game is reminiscent of Carmelo Anthony, someone who can drill a shot on the catch but can also take his man into the post and consistently get 2 points. Tatum’s usage rate at the moment is 26%, and could realistically rise along with his efficiency, and Duke will likely go to him more often in tougher games. For frame of reference, that usage number is about equal to Lebron for this NBA season. While most NBA offenses utilize dribble handoffs and motion plays, having a player to dump the ball to as a last resort is a luxury many teams are without, and Tatum certainly has that ability.
While his placement as a top prospect in this class combined with a slow start to the season left a lot of people disappointed, the dude has lately been heating up significantly. For the season, Tatum is averaging 16 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2 assists a game on 44% shooting, including 36% from 3. Those numbers don’t tell the whole story though. Tatum has slowly coalesced into the Duke lineup, and has become not only their go-to iso scorer, but a vital part of their motion offense and the fulcrum of their scoring. Since Duke’s February 9th win against North Carolina, Tatum has attempted five or more 3’s in all but one game. In that time frame, he is shooting about 43% from 3. He is also averaging close to 5 free throws a game, and making them 87% of the time. While free throw numbers tend to carry over to the big leagues, if Tatum’s 3-point stroke carries over to the league it will be a huge boost to his scoring potential.
Watch any game film for a quick image of Tatum’s form. It’s about all you can ask for, as a long guy he fully extends to get his shot off and it’s going to be very tough for anybody in the league to get their hands on the ball when he shoots.
On a basic level, Tatum has a perfect body to be taught NBA defense. He’s big enough to get moved around from the 2-4 at 6-8 and has the weight (205 pounds) to hold his own in the post. His 6-11 wingspan will allow him to guard players bigger than him and be disruptive in passing lanes. Having a player with his basketball knowledge and coupling it with great defensive size will give coaches the opportunity to mold him into a defensive menace.
Tatum is also a pretty aggressive defender, averaging over a block and a steal per game. He will swing those long arms at most shots in his vicinity, and his average of 3 fouls a game shows that he is more often changing his assignments shot than giving up foul shots when he contests. His defensive BPM (3.3) is actually higher than his offensive, which is surprising for such a prolific offensive player, and would be equivalent to about a Nerlens Noel or Hassan Whiteside level impact in the NBA. I believe given the right system, Tatum’s defensive potential is being sorely underrated. While college defense wont always translate immediately to the NBA, I’m confident Tatum’s natural ability coupled with great measurements will allow him to excel in the long run.
A nice comparison for what Tatum brings to the table is a younger Melo or Paul Pierce. A bred iso-scorer who has a ton of ability as a cog in any sort of offensive and defensive system, I would expect Tatum’s stock to continue to rise, and have him pegged around pick 4-6. Obviously at the top of the draft you have Lonzo, Fultz and Jackson, but after that I think the difference in players are somewhat negligible and will be based on team needs. Tatum can fit almost anywhere and I’m more confident in his skills immediately translating than I am in somebody like Dennis Smith Jr.
In his most recent game against FSU, we got to see a bit of Tatum as a creator. While that wont ever be his calling card as a pro, I think its great to see that his NBA ready game has room to grow. I am genuinely excited as well as curious to see what Tatum has in store for us. If your team drafts him, you should be excited too. Rarely does a player with such prolific offensive skills have Tatum’s physical tools for defense, but he isn’t a project. He is already performing at a high level defensively, and seems to only be improving. If I have a top 5 pick, give me the guy with potential coupled with production on both sides of the ball.