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NBA Draft 2017 Scouting Profile: Jayson Tatum

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The classes’ most polished wing-weapon, Tatum offers versatility as a scorer with a developing playmaking and defensive skills.

South Carolina v Duke Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Jayson Tatum

NBA Position: SF/Small-ball PF

General Information: 19 year old Freshman, played at Duke. From St. Louis, MO.

Measurables: 6'8", 210 lbs, 6’11" wingspan, 8'10.5" standing reach.

2016-17 Season Statistics: 16.8 PPG, 2.1 APG, 7.3 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 2.6 TOPG (29 games played, 33.3 minutes a contest) - 45.2% FG, 84.9% FT, 34.2% 3P

Summary:

Tatum is an old-school ISO-predominant scorer with a developing set of perimeter and post moves; nearly a fourth of his shots come in isolation, and while he certainty teetered into black hole territory early in the season, he improved his assist rate and patience within the offense towards the end of the year. While he’s a capable rebounder, he lacked the effort or instincts on the defensive end that define his offensive game. Right now, Tatum is a talented scorer with few sureties outside of his advanced set of offensive moves; his ceiling depends on his ability to adapt to the playmaking/off-ball stressing NBA.

Offensive Breakdown:

Tatum’s individual creation ability is among the top in the class; he utilizes a growing number of moves, from jab-step fakes to insanely quick stop-on-a-dime pullups to get himself open enough for a shot. He loves faking out the gym with his impressive handles, and when he gets a first step it’s hard for the defense to recover. At Duke, he was much more impressive on his ISO drives to his left (.95 PPP, 77th percentile according to Syngery) than his right (.71, 37th percentile), but he didn’t rely on his left side and kept his left/right slips nearly balanced.

Tatum will likely have a rocky transition into the NBA as he learns to play small-ball against real fours; against collegiate fours, he nearly always had a size OR athletic advantage, and still struggled against opponents who muscled into him. That said, his footwork downlow is impressive for a 19-year-old perimeter player (particularly a nasty fading turnaround), and he was in the 99th percentile for post-up success.

In the 2017 draft zeitgeist, Tatum has been granted synonymity with other high ISO-scoring prospects in the recent past such as Harrison Barnes, Rudy Gay, or even Carmelo Anthony. I compared Tatum’s efficiency stats AND assist statistics to the final collegiate seasons of other high-profile ISO wing players, and… was surprised. Forewarning; statistical comparisons should always be taken with a grain of salt.

Jayson Tatum v. ISO Wings

Player eFG% FT% (FTM) 3P% (3PM) Assist Rate Assist/Turnover Ratio Assist/Shot Attempt Usage Rate
Player eFG% FT% (FTM) 3P% (3PM) Assist Rate Assist/Turnover Ratio Assist/Shot Attempt Usage Rate
Jayson Tatum, Freshman, Duke 50.7 84.9 (118) 34.2 (40) 12.4 0.81 1/5.88 26.2
Jaylen Brown, Freshman, Cal 47.1 65.4 (142) 29.4 (30) 15.3 0.64 1/5.55 31.4
Harrison Barnes, Soph., UNC 48.7 72.3 (141) 35.8 (49) 7.2 0.58 1/12.11 28.1
Gordon Hayward, Soph., Butler 52.7 82.9 (179) 29.4 (47) 12.1 0.72 1/6.1 24.7
Rudy Gay, Soph.,UConn 49.5 73.2 (101) 31.8 (28) N/A 0.81 1/5.98 N/A
Carmelo Anthony, Freshman, Syracuse 53.7 70.6 (168) 33.7 (56) N/A 1 1/7.9 N/A
Mystery Draft Player A, Freshman, ACC School 50.5 70.7 (94) 34.5 (90) N/A 0.78 1/7.3 N/A

I expected efficiency stats to be the crux of my slightly-more-pessimistic-than-the-consensus view of Tatum, but the biggest thing that jumps out was just how solid these numbers are in comparison (also noticeable… damn, Harrison Barnes numbers were awful his sophomore year. 7.6% assist rate!!!). Duke’s dysfunctional-if-hyper-talented offense surrounded him with a ton of shooters, but it was more a curse than a blessing since Luke Kennard was the only teammate who offered any consistency. Still, even with this messy offense, Tatum still put up better efficiency AND assist numbers than most of these proven NBA ISO scorers. I know Rudy Gay is already a popular comparison for Tatum, but those numbers are eerily identical.

Of course, while Tatum could become a Gay-level shot-creator, we’ve seen plenty of Wes Johnson, Michael Beasley, Adam Morrison, and Derrick Williams type scorer-only players fail when one of their scoring skills failed to translate. As for Mystery Player A up there… Donte Green, who I only added because Sports Reference’s index comparison brought him up and the stat similarities cracked me up.

Tatum’s offensive talents are as impressive and polished as any wing in the past few years, and by themselves give him a strong argument against any of the other Tier 2 players in the class. His improvements over the year as he learned to balance his creation ability/need with that of his teammates was certainly impressive and gives his potential a much more rounded ceiling then he showed early in the year.

Defensive Breakdown:

Tatum showed the defensive rebounding skill teams look for in a small-ball four, finishing with 8.8 rebounds per 40 minutes and a 19.7% defensive rebounding rate. The effort wasn’t always consistent, but once he adapts to the bigger rougher NBA post life, there’s hope that he can be a plus rebounder in both standard and small-ball lineups.

Much like his playmaking skill, Tatum’s defense motor went from wholly-underwhelming early the year to acceptable later in the year. 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks per 40 minutes is impressive, but as with any young kid, his defensive instincts will take time to polish. He still was beaten by players who had no business beating his size and quickness (just watch his defense against South Carolina), but teams won’t pass on him for anything he does on defense. The advantages of playing him at the four in college won’t exist in the NBA until he gets stronger and mentally tougher as a defender. He doesn’t offer the defensive ceiling that Jonathan Isaac (length, quickness) or OG Anunoby (strength, twitch quickness) offer, but there isn’t any reason to think he can’t become adequate.

Intangibles:

Tatum suffered from Duke’s lack of a real point guard, and too much time with the ball in his hands early and little but instincts to go off led to inefficient numbers, too many bad shots, and concerns about his ball-stopping tendencies. A large number of his plays started with four-six seconds of dribbling before he turned on the gas… and ended up with a contested turnaround or a fading three. This improved later in the season, and over the past 1.5 months, his field goal efficiency AND assist numbers climbed (although rarely in the same game), and he showed flashes of court vision beyond the tunnel of his drive. One wonders how Tatum would look at the next level on a team with a legitimate point guard; would he accept more of a free-roaming role, become a scorer who drags the defense with him and doesn’t black-hole the offense?

Scouts and those in the know call Tatum a gym rat, a guy dedicated to improving his game. From what he showed at the beginning of the year to what he was routinely showing at the end of the year (before the disastrous South Carolina ending) is as impressive a growth as any in the class. Plenty of reason to have high expectations for Tatum, even though I think his ceiling is lower than some in the class around him.

Fit with Sacramento:

Tatum’s fit with Sacramento is clear; he plays a position of need and adds a go-to scorer mentality on a team that could use more offensive confidence. He’d likely mesh well with a young front line that, aside from a month-and-a-half from Skal Labissieren, lacks proven one-on-one ability. The ability to play next to a trio of shooters at the SG position, along with presumably a shooter at the point (the Kings can’t hope to get both Tatum AND Fox), would give the Kings some real spacing and offensive firepower they haven’t had in years. Tatum’s offensive floor is certainly higher than the rest of the wing class, especially compared to Jonathan Isaac or any of the late first rounder small forwards.

The roadmap to a solid 2nd option in the league is here for Tatum; anything beyond that hinges on him opening up his passing ability, becoming a lights-out three-point shooter, or both.