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.

Rumor: Indiana coach Nate McMillan is on hot seat

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Last season, Indiana’s Nate McMillan finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting, taking a team that lost star Victor Oladipo after just 36 games and still got them into the playoffs. McMillan is going to get COY votes again this year for much the same reason — his teams play good defense and overachieve.

Indiana coach Nate McMillan is also on the hot seat.

It’s surprising, and it’s just a rumor, but ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe had this conversation on a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast (hat tip PacersTalk.net).

Van Gundy: “I had two people come up to me since I’ve been here [in the NBA restart bubble] and say, ‘Nate McMillan’s in trouble.’”

Lowe: “It’s been the hottest rumor all season… What you’ve heard in Orlando’s been going around all season…

“Let me be clear: It’s just a rumor. I don’t know if it’s true. When you talk to people around the Pacers, they say, ‘It’s not true’ or ‘Where you’d hear that from?’”

Maybe management wants a more modern offense, the Pacers are bottom eight in both three pointers attempted and pace. Overall, Indiana’s offense is middle of the pack (18th in the league), which is not bad considering it was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level).

It’s hard to imagine that the Pacers would make a change this offseason, which will be short and give a new coach less time to ramp up a program. Plus, does owner Herb Simon want to pay two coaches? The finances of the league are helping other coaches keep their jobs.

More than all that, McMillan doesn’t deserve to be fired.

Not that “deserved” has had much to do with NBA coaches keeping their jobs in the past.

 

Phoenix Suns, a perfect 4-0 in the bubble, are growing and thinking playoffs

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The last time Devin Booker walked off the court as a winner in four consecutive games, these were the opponents: Hampton, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Notre Dame.

That is, until now.

Booker and the Phoenix Suns – the team that came to the NBA restart at Walt Disney World with the worst record in the Western Conference and the second-worst record of the 22 teams in the field – are perhaps the best story of the bubble.

They’re 4-0 at Disney, breathing real life into playoff hopes that basically were nonexistent when the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic on March 11. It’s the team’s first four-game winning streak since December 2018; Booker missed one of those games, so it’s his first run of four wins in a row since helping Kentucky make its Final Four run in 2015.

“It definitely feels like a tournament, a big AAU tournament, the March Madness tournament,” Phoenix’s Cameron Payne said Friday. “That’s something I never even got a chance to be in, but hey, I’ll take this.”

The Suns started their bubble run with a win over Washington and followed that with victories against three playoff-bound teams – first Dallas, then the Los Angeles Clippers (both of those games being 117-115 finals, the win over the Clippers sealed by a Booker buzzer-beater) and next a 114-99 victory Thursday over Indiana.

A team that had a stretch of four wins in 20 games during November and December, then a run of four wins in 15 games during January and February, got to the bubble and are now 4-for-4.

The Suns are riding a 10-year playoff drought, the second-longest current one in the NBA, but now they’re thinking big and for good reason.

“Well, you know, this is in the fledgling stages, for sure,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We’ve got a lot more work to do. And there’s a process that we’ve kind of gotten ourselves involved in and we’re going to stick to that. So, fun? I don’t have time to have fun right now. It’s always good to win, but I’m working right now. And I want guys to understand, it’s fun when you win – but then you’ve got to turn the page and get right back to work.”

Williams understands the reality for the Suns right now. They entered Friday 1-1/2 games out of ninth place and the play-in series that will decide the last postseason berth in the West. And while the 4-0 start has been noteworthy, even an 8-0 mark in the seeding games wouldn’t guarantee the Suns a trip to that play-in round.

The Suns play Miami on Saturday, then finish the regular season against Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Dallas.

“I’ve been in five years now and haven’t had that much success,” Booker said. “But, you know, I’m working hard every day to turn that narrative and change that narrative. We have a good bunch in here to do it. A lot of young players mixed with some veteran presence and it’s a good look for us. So, we’re going to keep our head down, keep working.

“I don’t think anybody here is worried about 4-0. We still have plans and goals for this team to reach and 4-0 wasn’t it.”

Booker is averaging 28 points in the four games. Deandre Ayton, another big piece of the young Suns’ core, is averaging 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. There are six players averaging double figures in all, including Payne, who is shooting 53% from 3-point range in his first four games with the Suns.

“We definitely feel good,” Payne said. “We’re not here for no reason.”

Report: NBA players bypassing ‘snitch’ hotline to call Adam Silver directly

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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No NBA players have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the bubble. And they want to keep it that way. A championship and a lot of money are on the line.

That means preventing players from having close contact with anyone outside the bubble. And, in case someone contracts coronavirus, wearing masks (intact masks) to prevent a wider outbreak.

The NBA set up a hotline – quickly dubbed the “snitch” hotline – for players to report violations.

Chris Haynes of TNT:

Players have been circumventing that process. Sources informed me that multiple players are personally calling commissioner Adam Silver to issue their complaints with things they’re seeing in the bubble.

Adam Silver is accessible to players – particularly the president of the union.

I’m not sure about tattling straight to the top boss when there are other protocols in place. Are hotline calls not resulting in changed behavior?

Either way, it’s important for the NBA to keep players safe – both for their health and the league’s revenue (about half of which goes to players in salary). So, cut Chris Paul anyone calling Silver a break. They’re at least trying to help. And so far, violations inside the bubble have led to reminders, not harsher discipline.

Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)

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The Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams in the bubble. New Orleans has gone 1-3 at Disney World and fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.

Still (barely) hanging in the race to make the play-in, the Pelicans must face the Wizards without Zion Williamson.

Pelicans:

The Pelicans are treating Williamson carefully – and they should. He’s their 20-year-old franchise player with major health concerns.

But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.

Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.

The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.

Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.