2017 NBA Draft Prospect Profiles: Is Jayson Tatum the next Carmelo Anthony?

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Jayson Tatum had the slowest start of anyone in the 2017 NBA draft class, and it probably had quite a bit to do with the fact that his season didn’t actually begin until early December.

Tatum suffered a foot injury during a Duke practice in October, one that kept him off the floor for roughly a month and out of the lineup for the first eight games of Duke’s season, and despite an impressive performance in a win over Florida in Madison Square Garden in just his second game as a collegian, Tatum was not all that good for the first half of his freshman campaign.

Through 13 games, he was shooting under 43 percent from the floor, below 30 percent from three and had more turnovers than assists as Duke dealt with what can best be described as a power struggle amongst the stars on their roster. At one point, Duke was 3-4 in the ACC. But by the end of the year, Tatum was averaging a more-than-respectable 16.9 points, 7.3 boards and 2.1 assists while shooting better than 50 percent from the field and 34 percent from three while thriving in a small-ball four role previously occupied by the likes of Jabari Parker, Justise Winslow and Brandon Ingram.

The question now is whether or not Tatum can do the same at the NBA level. Will he be tough enough and strong enough to play the four at the highest level of the game? If not, does he actually have the physical tools to be able to create offense against NBA perimeter defenders?

Height: 6’8″
Weight: 205
Wingspan: 6’11”
2016-17 Stats: 16.8 points, 7.3 boards, 2.1 assists, 50.4% FG, 34.2% 3PT

Jayson Tatum (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

STRENGTHS: You cannot talk about Jayson Tatum without talking about just how good of a 1-on-1 scorer he is. According to Synergy, there was no high-major player that averaged more isolation possessions per game than Tatum did, and he did so while posting a solid 0.896 points-per-possession, the 70th percentile nationally. He also led all high-major players in efficiency on post-up possessions, scoring 1.303 PPP.

Tatum’s offensive repertoire is as polished as any one-and-done you’ll see. His bread-and-butter is his jab series — his footwork, whether facing up or playing with his back to the basket, is impeccable — but he has the entire package offensively: crossovers, step-backs, turnaround jumpers, fadeaways, jump hooks, in-and-outs, rip-throughs and he even pulls out the Dirk Nowitzki one-foot fallaway jumpers from time-to-time.

He’s only gotten better offensively as his jumper has continued to develop. In high school, one of the knocks on Tatum was that he didn’t have three-point range; he thrived on mid-range pull-ups. As a freshman, however, he shot a solid 34.2 percent from beyond the arc, getting better as the season progressed. The stroke is there — he shots 85 percent from the free throw line and averaged 1.22 PPP on unguarded jumpers at Duke — but his release, at this point, is still somewhat slow. If he doesn’t have time and space, when he rushes his shot, is when the inconsistency kicks in.

Tatum has a reputation for having a tremendous work ethic, and this is precisely the kind of issue that gets fixed with reps. I’m not concerned about his ability to make shots in the NBA, including from the NBA three-point line. He’ll get there in time.

The other thing that Tatum has going for him is his frame. He stands 6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, which is more than respectable for a guy that is projected to play the combo-forward — or a hybrid 3-4, a small ball four, a big wing, however you refer to it — role in the NBA. He already looked much bigger as a freshman than he did as a high schooler, and his broad shoulders suggest he has a frame that can hold more weight.

In addition to weight, he needs to add lower body strength and quickness (we’ll get to that in a minute) but Tatum not only showed flashes of having the toughness to guard in the paint. He was more of a play maker defensively than you may realize, averaging 1.3 steals, 1.1 blocks and 6.0 defensive rebounds per game.

Put another way, Tatum has the tools to potentially be a versatile, multipositional defender at the next level.

That versatility, both offensively and defensively, is incredibly valuable the way the NBA has been trending.

Jayson Tatum (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

WEAKNESSES: Generally speaking, the biggest concern that scouts have with Tatum is his jump shot, but as I mentioned earlier, I’m not all that concerned about whether or not he will be able to develop NBA range in time.

To me, the bigger concern is his shot selection. According to hoop-math.com, roughly 40 percent of Tatum’s shot attempts in the half court came on two-point jump shots, and he only made 40.2 percent of them. This is why Tatum’s efficiency numbers are relatively low given his skill level; he’s not getting the extra point that comes with shooting a three, and he’s not drawing fouls at the rate that he would by getting all the way to the rim.

This goes to a broader concern that I have with Tatum: Just how high is his basketball IQ? Tatum had a bad habit of being a ball-stopper with the Blue Devils, particularly early on in the season, and he didn’t seem to read the game all that well. He missed the extra pass on ball rotations, he struggled to identify where help defense was coming from, he seemed to decide on the play he wanted to make instead of reacting to what the defense gave him. For example, often he’d try to force a dump-off to a big man instead of seeing the defense collapse, leaving shooters open on the perimeter.

To be fair, he did get better as the season progressed, and this may have just been a case of a freshman doing freshman things when his season started six weeks after everyone else. But it is something to keep in mind; sometimes workout warriors with every move in the book don’t know when to use those moves.

There are also questions about Tatum physically. For starters, he’s not all that explosive. He does have a decent first step going to his right, and his long strides make it tough to catch up to him once he gets a step, but he does struggle to turn the corner against quicker defenders, particularly off the bounce. This is an issue that is magnified by Tatum’s loose handle, and it begs the question: Just how effective of a perimeter scorer is he going to be if he’s guarded by NBA wings?

Tatum also has a habit of “playing high” — he doesn’t sit in a stance and he isn’t all that low when he puts the ball on the floor, which is part of the reason he lacks some initial burst. Some of this can be fixed as he adds lower-body strength, which is something that he is going to need to be able to handle defending NBA fours. I’d also guess he probably needs to add at least 15-20 pounds to his 205 pound frame.

The question, essentially, is this: Tatum needs to develop one of two skills — the quickness to score on (and guard?) NBA wings, or the strength to be able to handle NBA fours in the post.

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

NBA COMPARISON: Anyone that watched Tatum play last season will understand why the easiest comparison to make is to Carmelo Anthony. They’re both roughly the same size with roughly the same skill-set — isolation scorers that can face-up, score in the post and thrive on making tough, two-point jumpers. The difference, however, is that Melo was a good 30 pounds heavier than Tatum after his one-and-done season, which is why he averaged 22 points and 10 boards and led Syracuse to a national title. Melo is the prototype for the kind of big wing or small-ball four that has become so valuable in the NBA.

I don’t think Tatum will ever be as good as peak-Melo was, and that’s assuming he puts on the bulk to be able to play the four. Perhaps the better comparison, then, is Paul Pierce, who was more of a natural wing scorer, a guy with less-than-stellar athleticism and a terrific mid-range game.

Either way …

OUTLOOK: … it’s probably unfair to put Tatum’s name in the same conversation as a pair of 10-time all-stars would could both end up in the NBA Hall of Fame one day, but if everything comes together for him, I don’t think it’s out of the question that he could average 20 points in the NBA for the next decade.

That’s how good of a scorer, and how hard of a worker, he is. I have little doubt that he’ll iron out some of the wrinkles in his jump shot and tighten up his handle.

For me, Tatum’s ceiling is going to be determined by his ability to do one of two things: Putting on the strength to be able to play the four in the NBA, where he is going to be able to have matchups that he can exploit, or adding enough initial burst and explosiveness that he’ll be able to create offense against NBA wing defenders.

PBT Podcast: Celtics win over Warriors, all things Boston with A. Sherrod Blakely

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The Boston Celtics are for real.

In case you had any doubts, they ran their streak to 14 wins in a row by coming from 17 down – twice — to beat the Golden State Warriors. The Celtics have the best defense in the NBA, and it threw the Warriors off their game, something few teams have been able to do over the past few years.

Kurt Helin welcomes in A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston to talk about what this win means to the Celtics, why their defense is so good, how Kyrie Irving is fitting in, how young stars such as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are rising up, and what is the deal with Marcus Smart. Also, there is a lot of Brad Stevens love.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Grizzlies’ Mike Conley out at least two weeks with sore heel, Achilles

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Injuries are already starting to shape the playoff chase in the West — Rudy Gobert is out for at least a month in Utah, and the Clippers have lost six in a row as they battle injuries to three starters.

Now add the Memphis Grizzlies to the mix.

Mike Conley, the point guard who, along with Marc Gasol, is crucial to Memphis’ success, will be out at least two weeks to rest a sore left heel and Achilles, the team announced Friday. He could be out longer, Conley has had issues with this Achilles before, the team will want to be cautious, and by far the best treatment is rest.

Conley averages 17.1 points per game, is a great floor general running the offense, and is a quality defender at the point.

Memphis is 7-7 on the season and tied with Oklahoma City for the final playoff slot in the West, but the Grizzlies have dropped six of their last eight. What’s more, they are entering a gauntlet part of the schedule without Conley: Their next game is against Houston, then Portland, and in the next 10 they have the Nuggets, Cavaliers, Timberwolves, and Spurs (twice). The danger is they fall far enough back from the playoff chase they struggle to catch up again.

Expect to see a lot more Tyreke Evans, who has been strong as a sixth man but now will have much more asked of him. Also, more playmaking duties will fall to Gasol, working out of the elbow, and both Chandler Parsons and Mario Chalmers will get the ball in their hands. The question is what do they do with it.

Stephen Curry, was Warriors/Celtics a Finals preview? “Very, very likely, right?”

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The Golden State Warriors remain the prohibitive favorite to win the NBA title.

Thursday night, the Boston Celtics earned some validation that they belong in the conversation. Using a stymieing defense that threw off the vaunted Warriors offense, Boston came from 17 down in the third quarter to beat the Warriors.

With the Cavaliers stumbling out of the gate, does this make the Warriors/Celtics game a Finals preview? Stephen Curry (who was 3-of-14 shooting with four turnovers on the night) said yes, as you can see in the NBC Sports Bay Area video above.

“Very, very likely, right?” Curry said. “They’re playing the best right now in the East. Obviously, they need to beat Cleveland, who’s done it three years in a row. We’ll see, but I heard the weather’s great here in June.”

The weather in Boston is great for a short window in the spring, then the humidity kicks in. But that’s not the point.

I came into this season thinking the Celtics were a year away still, and when Gordon Hayward went down it strengthened that belief. But this team is a contender now — they are far better defensively than expected, and young players Jaylen Brown (22 points against the Warriors) and Jayson Tatum have stepped up more than expected. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have developed a fast chemistry. And Brad Stephens is proving he is in the very upper echelon of NBA coaches.

It’s not even Thanksgiving, talk of the NBA Finals is premature. Curry is right, the Celtics still have to go through LeBron James and his Cavaliers to reach the Finals, which will not be easy.

Still, June basketball in Boston seems like a real possibility again.

Report: Momentum building toward ending one-and-done rule

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“My sense is it’s not working for anyone. It’s not working certainly from the college coaches and athletic directors I hear from. They’re not happy with the current system. And I know our teams aren’t happy either in part because they don’t necessarily think that the players are coming into the league are getting the kind of training that they would expect to see among top draft picks in the league.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that during the NBA Finals last year about the one-and-done rule for players trying to enter the NBA — they can’t be drafted by NBA teams for one season after their high school class graduates, so the best players go to college for one season (and most go to classes for less than that). As Silver said, nobody really likes the system, but it was the compromise struck between the owners (who would like to raise the draft age to 20 or higher) and the players’ union (who want the draft age at 18, as soon as guys come out of high school).

However, momentum is building to change the rule, something we have written about before and now is gaining more traction, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

With momentum gathering to reshape the one-and-done draft entry rule, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA executive director Michele Roberts met with the new Commission on College Basketball in Washington on Thursday, league sources told ESPN….

Nevertheless, there’s a growing belief within the league that Silver’s desire to end the one-and-done — the ability of college basketball players to enter the NBA draft after playing one year in college — could be pushing the sport closer to high school players having the opportunity to directly enter the league again. For that change to happen, though, the union would probably need to cede the one-and-done rule and agree to a mandate that players entering college must stay two years before declaring for the draft.

While the NBA and players’ union will talk to the NCAA about their plans, ultimately the college body has no say in what the NBA draft and eligibility rules are.

The best players of their generations came straight to the NBA out of high school — Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, and others —  however, what bothered owners were the misses in the draft. There were busts, and owners/GMs want to reduce as much risk as they can in the draft (even though there are busts on guys who they saw plenty of in college, hello Michael Olowokandi).

NBA teams are now better suited to develop players than they were a couple of decades ago — every team has an assistant coach focused on just that. The best teams in the NBA right now — Golden State, Boston, San Antonio — are the best at developing players. That’s not a coincidence, and it has teams copying (or attempting to) what the successful ones do. Combine that with the growth of the G-League and teams growing their understanding how to use it, and they are better positioned to draft a player out of high school and develop him over time than they ever have been.

 

There are still a lot of questions and hurdles. If a player declares for the draft and has an agent, but isn’t drafted (or even isn’t drafted in the first round, so no guaranteed contract) will he have the option to come to college for two (or three) years anyway? Will the NCAA allow that? And Silver has talked before about the changes in the draft needing to reflect changes in how we develop players down to the AAU level, which is its own complex set of problems.

It’s not moving quickly, but these are steps in the right direction. One-and-done doesn’t work well for anyone. The college baseball style rule (go straight to the pros or spend three years in college in that sport’s case) isn’t perfect, but it’s better than the system in place. There seems to be momentum toward change. Finally.