Duke University and Coach K have a long history of putting strong college teams out on the court and sending players on to the NBA. This year they have three players, Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard and Harry Giles likely to be first round draft picks with Tatum the pick of the litter probably going 4th or 5th in the draft. If the Suns fall out of the top three after the lottery, Tatum could very well wind up in Phoenix.
Tatum does a lot of things well but his isolation game is his main strength. This has caused comparisons to Carmelo Anthony as his NBA ceiling while pointing to his floor as Rudy Gay or Harrison Barnes.
Tatum can score in a variety of ways in the half-court. He's not an extremely explosive athlete that can blow by defenders but he is a good ball handler with good footwork and a variety of moves at his disposal that he can use to either get to the rim or create space between himself and the defender to get off a good shot. He's a very smooth, polished player that rarely looks out of control, so much so that he often makes it look as though what he does is easy... but it's not.
Although he has a knack for getting himself free for shots, he's also not shy of contact and getting to the foul line where he hit 84.9% of his free throw attempts. On iso plays he got to the line 20.3% of the time
Tatum averaged 16.8 points per game this season hitting 50.4% of his two point shots. He's a great scorer at almost any point inside the arc but his three point shot is still a work in progress although he still hit 34.2% of his three point attempts. Like many players he shoots from three best when it's a catch and shoot opportunity rather than off the dribble. For the long ball he seems to need more time to gather himself and his form broke down a bit when rushed by defenders. The three point shot is a new addition to his arsenal and this could likely be due to the long ball still not being part of his comfort zone on the court. This should improve over time in the NBA.
He also has a good post up game although he rarely uses it unless he has a smaller defender on him. Here he also plays through contact well and gets to the FT line 17.4% of the time when he posts up another player.
Perhaps the biggest knock on Tatum offensively is that at times he becomes a ball stopper. He has a score first mentality and although that has softened a bit this season he still sometimes tends to over-dribble before attempting a shot or making a pass. He's also not a great passer, often trying to force high risk passes into the paint that aren't there but he has shown improvement over the season. He has also been known to take contested shots when he has a teammate wide open. That goes back to the score first mentality. He averaged 2.1 assists vs 2.6 turnovers this season.
His lack off an explosive first step could also be a problem when he transitions to the NBA game. He played a good bit of time at power forward at Duke where he was almost always faster than his often taller defenders which is an advantage that he probably won't continue to have at the next level.
Tatum grabbed 7.3 rebounds per game at Duke. He's more active on the defensive boards (6.0 rpg) than the offensive end (1.3 rpg) but being one of the main scorers on your team doesn't allow you too much time to think about positioning yourself for offensive rebounds. As he spent a lot of time playing power forward at Duke, he's also used to battling with taller players on the boards which adds to his resume as a rebounder.
Since rebounding is a skill that tends to translate well from the college level to the NBA, he should continue to be a productive rebounder.
Tatum is a good but not great defender. His size (6'8") and length (6'11" wingspan) are very good for a small forward. He did well in contesting shots (1.1 blocks per game), getting into the passing lanes (1.3 steals per game) and was generally good at perimeter defense although he was a bit prone to fall for fakes and misdirection moves.
He has all the tools to be a good defender but his intensity on that end of the court has been inconsistent. He tends to be a little slow and undisciplined when closing out on the perimeter which gave the opposing player an opportunity to either get off an uncontested shot or blow by him toward the rim. When playing off the ball defense he sometimes lost his man which turned into a scoring opportunity for the opposing team. That’s a habit that he can’t afford to carry over into the NBA.
Post defense is a struggle for him but in the NBA that might be less of a problem than in college as he will likely spend less time at PF. But overall he will be playing against quicker, faster small forwards which could make his perimeter defense suffer at the next level.
Defense is a big question mark for him at the NBA level. He has the tools to be better but will he focus on trying to hone them and improve?
There is no better isolation scorer in this year's draft than Jayson Tatum.
That is his strength and his calling card... but there are still many questions about him and his game.
With his lack of an explosive first step, how well will his offensive game translate to the NBA? Will he be able to overcome his score first mentality when he becomes part of an NBA team where that might not be his primary role? Is he willing to work on improving his defense? Can he improve his defense enough to meet NBA standards?
More importantly, is he a good fit with the Suns and their young core moving forward? Ball movement has been a problem in the past and does bringing in a potential “ball stopper” make sense for this young team?
Unless the Suns fall to fourth or fifth after the lottery these questions may be irrelevant but they must be asked.