2016-17 Season Stats:
45% from the field
34% from three
85% from the free-throw line
Weight: 204 pounds Height w/shoes: 6′8″. Wingspan: 6’11″. Max Vert: N/A
Pre-Dallas Harrison Barnes
There’s a chance that Jayson Tatum could be not good at the next level. He projects to be similar to guys like Harrison Barnes and Rudy Gay. Oh, wait, that doesn’t sound right. Those players are both really good at basketball, especially in the right situation. So I guess Jayson Tatum will most likely be a really good basketball player. With his NBA-ready body, strong finishing ability, improved shooting, and versatile offense, Tatum will provide value for any team picking in the high lottery in this June’s draft.
While Harrison Barnes and Rudy Gay are both players with negative stigmas surrounding them, they also have been incredibly effective when utilized correctly and within their role. Barnes, in particular, is an excellent example. In Golden State, he left fans frustrated often due to his annoying knack of not living up to his potential. He also was wildly inconsistent when asked to score against opposing benches. Barnes often played 3rd or 4th fiddle when playing with the starters, but when called on to lead Golden State’s bench unit, he fell flat. For this reason, many were left puzzled why Dallas would offer a guy like that a $90 million contract. To the surprise of many, Barnes is actually earning it.
The reason is fit and role. Barnes is now the 1st/2nd offensive option along with Dirk Nowitzki, and the two of them together provide a strong 1-2 punch (along with Seth Curry and Wesley Matthews– wait, why is this team no a playoff team?) on offense. Barnes has turned into a premier isolation player in this league, and Dallas’ offense is better because of it. They can look to him to get buckets when needed, and he can produce something out of nothing. That is a trait that all #1 options need to have. When the offense breaks down, someone has to be there to bail it out. Just ask LeBron James, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Isaiah Thomas– the list goes on.
This is the difference between Jayson Tatum, the regular role player vs. Jayson Tatum, the nightly offensive superstar. Wherever he lands will make an incredible impact on his career path. If, for a few years, Tatum is asked just to stand in the corner to shoot off the catch, he’s not going to be really good. If a team asks him to be a 3rd or 4th option on offense, he won’t thrive. He might succeed marginally, but Tatum won’t realize his potential in this role. In fact, he’ll underwhelm mightily just as Barnes did (just ask any Golden State fan. It was maddening).
However, if the team that drafts him is as versatile in their use of him as Tatum is himself on offense, it’ll be a match made in heaven. Tatum can score at all three distances. He’s a strong, tough finisher in the paint, he’s excellent with midrange pull-ups, and he’s a very decent 3-point shooter. While he started the year slowly as he recovered from a foot sprain, Tatum’s comfort in the offense (and his shooting percentages) increased. He finished the season with a very respectable 34.8% from 3-point range, proving him to be competent from that range.
Tatum’s ability to consistently knock down that shot will be a big difference for him in a league currently dominated by the 3-point shot. It just opens up so many more avenues for him when defenders have to respect his 3-pointers, and that allows him freedom to maximize his versatility. Take, for example, his career-high performance against Virginia on February 15th. He knocked down some tough long balls, but it also opened up the floor for him. After that game, opponents began to play him closer on the perimeter, and because of that driving lanes opened up for him that allowed him to be even more of a scoring threat than before.
Jayson Tatum doesn’t really look like Carmelo Anthony in terms of motions on the court, but he plays like him. When in the paint, Tatum is a bully. He uses his excellent NBA-ready body to back down opponents and shoot over them in the post. When he feels like it, he turns around and calmly hits a cool turnaround jumper. In transition, he uses a combination of basic dribble styles to get where he wants, and his length allows him to finish over the staunchest of transition defenses. While Tatum may never be the scorer that ‘Melo is, he has the potential. In college, he was one of the nation’s best isolation players, and his continued success in this area is crucial to his development in the NBA. The league needs more guys who can play multiple positions and score at will.
One other thing that I appreciate about Jayson Tatum is how his footwork aids his finishing ability. His footwork is reminiscent of Rajon Rondo who always combines his behind-the-back pass fakes with an awkward layup motion. Most players jump off of the foot opposite of the hand used when laying the ball up. When a player jumps off of the same foot that they’re laying the ball up and in with, it creates a weird blip in timing that makes it difficult for shot-blockers to reach. It’s a tiny and subtle detail that makes all the difference, especially with long arms. Tatum does this, and it’s really interesting to watch. Although he won’t be able to out-muscle defenders like he did in college, this skill will help him greatly.
While his overall offense is extremely advanced for his age, Jayson Tatum does have areas in which he could improve. He averaged 2.1 assists per game even though someone with his skill could function as a point forward down the line. He has good vision (check his highlights), but there are times when in true ‘Melo fashion, he reverts to “shooters shoot” mode. Tatum’s defense is okay, but he’s only 19 with the skills to improve. Hopefully he’ll land on a team that will nurture his defensive potential.
Tatum does rebound very well, and that, along with his solid physical profile, will allow teams to play him at both forward positions. With his combination of size, speed and strength, Tatum could make a very effective small-ball four. His offensive versatility would keep slow opposing power forwards a run for their money, and it would also be a counter for other teams playing small-ball. The great thing about using him in this way is that you wouldn’t sacrifice much in the rebound department if his numbers there stay trending upward at the next level.
We can see the best version of Jayson Tatum if he gets drafted by a team that uses him for what he is: an offensively versatile isolation player who scores on demand. If Tatum realizes his full potential, the team that drafts him could grab a gem: a two-way superstar. Just like Harrison Barnes, the version of Tatum that we get largely depends on his environment, but that isn’t the end-all-be-all of his career. He’ll have a chance wherever he goes, and in a league desperately seeking two-way players who can be score on a whim, Tatum falls exactly into that category. For any team drafting #2-#5 this June, Tatum has to be in strong consideration. If everything falls into place, we’re looking at a perennial All-Star in the making.