Jayson Tatum grew up a Kobe Bryant/Lakers fan. Once in the NBA, Tatum got mentored by Kobe. Tatum even wore a Kobe armband while leading the Celtics over the Heat in Game 7 and into the NBA Finals this year.
Tatum could’ve donned forum blue and gold more often.
The Lakers had the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft but selected Lonzo Ball, leaving Tatum to Boston at No. 3.
“The Lakers were my favorite team, and Kobe was my favorite player,” says Tatum, who wore a purple No. 24 wristband to honor Bryant in Boston’s win against the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. “So it was crazy that the Lakers had the second pick and I was so close to a dream come true. But it was just like they didn’t want anything to do with me at the time.”
The consensus top prospect in the draft, Markelle Fultz, went No. 1 to the 76ers, who even traded up for him. Opinions were more divided on the second-best prospect, though Ball was the most popular pick. Josh Jackson and De'Aaron Fox were more likely than Tatum to be ranked ahead of Ball.
For what it’s worth, I ranked Ball No. 2 on my board – and Tatum No. 9. Whoops!
But I didn’t see workouts where Tatum could have shown how easily he took to the NBA 3-point arc. As Tatum explained to me, the longer shot felt more comfortable with his mechanics. A skill surprising to even those who rated him highly, 3-point shooting was essential in Tatum becoming a star.
The Lakers might have also chosen Ball for the wrong reasons – that he’s from Los Angeles and carried star power through his dad, LaVar Ball.
So, while I’m certainly not positioned to shred the Lakers for taking Ball over Tatum, the error could have been foreseen. The Celtics certainly uncovered Tatum’s potential in advance.
It’s an interesting “what if?” Maybe the Lakers would’ve just traded Tatum for Anthony Davis, like they did with Ball. But Los Angeles certainly could’ve kept other assets if including Tatum rather than Ball in the deal. Perhaps, Tatum would still be starring in Los Angeles – with or without LeBron James, depending how far down the rabbit hole you want to go.
Boston probably wouldn’t be in the NBA Finals right now. If nothing else, that development would have been welcome in Los Angeles.