With recent reports suggesting Josh Jackson has been promised by a team in the Top 3, the possibility of the Suns having the option to draft the Duke product is high heading into the draft.
According to Tatum’s instagram account, he landed in Phoenix yesterday for a second workout with the team, after working out in LA for the Suns last week. Tatum joins Jonathan Isaac as the only players so far with multiple workouts.
NBA scouts and executives rave about Tatum’s pure scoring ability from all over the court. Many Sans fans wonder how Tatum will fit in with an already proven young scorer in Devin Booker. If the Suns are able to land Tatum on draft night they would have a chance to engineer one of the top young offenses in the NBA.
I’ll breakdown the similarities between Tatum and Booker, look at how Tatum was used at Duke, and then project the offensive sets in which Earl Watson can use his skill set.
Booker - Tatum Scoring Ability
Devin Booker and Jayson Tatum are both “3 Dimensional Scorers”, they can score in PicknRoll, Catch and Shoot 3, and the Low-Post. A 3D Scorer is the hardest piece to the puzzle to find on a championship contending team. Teams with one 3D Scorer are playoff contenders, teams that possess two are championship contenders.
Tatum’s length and ball handling enable him to be a prolific scorer in the PicknRoll this is a good example of his ability to attack the switch by Kennedy Meeks.
2. Catch and Shoot
In Catch and Shoot Tatum is a capable shooter both on the hop and with the Two-Step rhythm. His potential future teammate Booker strictly loves shooting with the Two-Step rhythm. You might think that doesn’t matter but when you study Booker’s numbers you find something interesting. Booker shoots the left corner three at 23.3%. Watson runs a double pin down off a flare screen at times for Booker at that spot, it’s difficult for him get his feet set before he shoots, or shoots on the hop which is not as comfortable. This is also why there is a 10% difference right wing vs left wing 3-PT.
Booker shooting in practice is a great way to see his Two-Step rhythm. Right foot is out every time.
Studying Tatum’s college stats he has a similar problem. Although it’s not as statistically significant as Booker, there is a 6% difference.
This is a good clip that shows how Tatum shoots when his feet are set. Watch how he uses his right foot to generate momentum into the shot.
For the left corner three he can use the hop as his rhythm. Watch how he doesn’t generate momentum with the right foot this time. This is a key shot he would need to make at the NBA level consistently. The Suns motion offense requires strong side action with capable corner 3 point shooters, which I will breakdown in more detail later.
Tatum also has the ability to shoot with the up fake side step one dribble pull up.
3. Post Up Scoring
Obviously the best part of Tatum’s game is his isolation scoring in the post. His go to move is the one dribble step back.
With all 3 Dimensions Tatum is truly a complete offensive scorer.
You might wonder why it matters to have 3D scorers. The NBA Finals was a game of chess between Cavaliers and Warriors. Coach Lue continued to attack Steph Curry in ball screens on the defensive end. Cleveland does not have a 3D scorer to the caliber of Jayson Tatum or Devin Booker, and it cost them.
This is a great clip showing you Earl Watson’s game plan versus the Warriors. Get the switch on Curry and let Booker use his footwork - size to score.
A 3D scorer is a match-up nightmare. The Suns can potentially have two of the best young 3D scorers in the NBA. A valuable asset to a rebuilding team.
Evaluating draft prospects is an inexact science, but there are certain patterns you will see in players that translate to the next level. A player that understands how to get to his spots on the court with proper rhythm always stands out.
Studying Devin Booker at Kentucky vs Phoenix Suns you can see he still uses the same rhythm moves he had in college. Although the similarities in these clips are not exact you can see in Booker’s mind he is thinking, if I get to my rhythm I won’t miss.
This is the clip of Booker using the one dribble three vs Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament.
Now in his second year in the NBA with his former coach John Calipari in the first row, Booker uses a similar rhythm crossover three. I understand it is different, but Tatum is very similar with how uses crossovers to create rhythm.
You will notice that both of them jab with their opposite foot (left foot) before pulling up. This is a pattern seen with elite shooting prospects off the dribble.
Crossover 3 this time. Similar to how James Harden creates space.
Two-Dribble Rhythm Pull-Up is a sign of a confident scorer.
Good screen for screener action here, watch how Booker knows how to get to his spot.
Tatum has similar rhythm as well. He can get better attacking on the catch.
In my opinion footwork is the most important aspect of a prospect to evaluate. Booker had excellent footwork coming out of the draft, Tatum is right there with him. The prospects with elite footwork always have the best NBA careers. Booker’s success at an early age is due in large part to his fundamentally sound footwork.
Tatum loves setting up his defender with the right foot jab step. Watch how he is able to attack the right foot of his defender while driving left. Footwork is aggressive.
Booker’s footwork off the dribble is more advanced than Tatum. Footwork from Booker here is textbook perfect. Great attack of Embiid’s outside foot to create space before pulling up.
Tatum’s next step is to be more aggressive with ball fakes like Booker displayed. That is a progression that Booker has made this past season, I fully expect Tatum to be more aggressive with the ball in the NBA. Too many drives Tatum can’t beat his defender because can’t generate enough momentum with the ball at his waist.
Footwork out of the post is great for both players. Again Booker is just a little bit more advanced. The biggest sign is that you will never see Booker shooting off one foot, Tatum often shoots the one foot fall away shot.
This is a prime example. Good drop step move on Barry, but shoots falling away. You can tell he is comfortable doing this. Dirk Nowitzki is a Hall of Famer with the same move. It shouldn’t cause him too many problems.
Booker is a smooth scorer out of the low post. This is a similar drop step move on a smaller guard from the right block. Again watch the attention to detail by Booker with the ball placement away from his waist. A minor detail Tatum will improve as an NBA player, a fix that could take his scoring to the next level.
As good as Tatum’s face up game is in isolation his back to the basket game is a work in progress. This is a footwork pattern not in his repertoire on the left block, Booker consistently shows how effective the reverse drop step is.
Watson wants Booker to turn post ups into drives. I keep going back to it but watch how Booker uses the ball fake even when there is no chance he is passing. This detail can help Tatum get 5x better back to the basket post game.
Tatum will also need to turn Post Ups into PnR. Love how Booker is able to keep his defender on his hip, reads the big Anthony Davis while holding the defender in jail. Once Davis backs off Booker attacks. This move is as high level as it gets. Shows you why Booker scored 70 points in an NBA game.
If Tatum is able to add these moves his first three years in the NBA he will be an All-Star in a Phoenix Suns uniform.
Duke High Horns Motion Offense
These are a couple sets Coach K used to get Tatum to his spots out of their Horns offense.
This is the 5 set where you see Frank Jackson feed Tatum at the elbow and release to the wing, similar to many of the original actions in Peter Carill’s Princeton Offense. A weak side curl is set for the guard, but Tatum is able to reverse pivot attack and beat his defender to the rim.
Same action here but this time on the other elbow. Tatum does struggle going left, mainly due to his reliance of the right jab like I outlined earlier. He does a good job of getting the ball above his ahead for the finish this time.
Coach K also used Tatum as the screener in the UCLA High Motion PnR. After the initial pass to the wing the lead guard in this case Frank Jackson goes on a UCLA cut between Tatum and Kennard. Notre Dame elects to switch the PnR action allowing Tatum to finish over the top of the smaller defender.
This gets you thinking about the possibility of Booker - Tatum PnR. Pick your poison with how well Tatum can score in isolation on the right block.
Basic Single High PnR out of Horns here, this action shows you how much Tatum loves getting isolated on the right block.
Same game, Coach K elects to go with the Single High PnR, Notre Dame doesn’t switch the action this time. Watch closely how Tatum has the chance to attack from the top of the key but is able to take the defender to his spot. Advanced understanding of how to get to his spot is something that reminds you a lot of Devin Booker.
Tatum’s versatility allowed Duke to run the motion High PnR set with Tatum spacing the floor on the weak side. This is a shot he will make in a Suns uniform if the Suns use him to space the floor.
To end the section on Tatum have to add that he is a gifted passer and a better defensive player than many scouts and executives believe. A lot like Booker he won’t wow you with the flashy pass but will always make the heady play and has a great feel for the game.
Phoenix Suns Offense
It’s critical to understand how the Suns will use Tatum with their young nucleus. Tatum opens the playbook a lot more as he can score in 3 Dimensions, unlike T.J. Warren who does not have the post-up game Tatum possess.
The main issue the Suns would have with incorporating Tatum is the idea that he would excel playing as the 4 in the Suns system. Marquese Chriss currently looks like the starting power forward for the Suns. Let’s break it down.
A staple in the Watson offense is the 3-4 Zipper cut, which is a cut made with the 3 facing away from the basket. This clip shows how Chriss sets the screen. The main goal of this set in early offense is to get T.J. isolated from the top of the key where he is better compared to Tatum.
This action is one of the reasons it’s critical for the 4 man to shoot the corner 3 on the hop, something Chriss does very well for a young player.
Suns have to ask themselves would they rather have Tatum attacking or Warren, and is a combination of Tatum - Warren better than Chriss - Warren. If not, I think Chriss can play the 5.
Coach K elected to use Tatum as the 4 in similar action. Kennard comes on a Zipper cut and isolate Tatum on the left block. This is where Tatum has the advantage on Warren and Chriss he is a better isolation scorer on the left block.
With Booker spacing the floor in the corner a Tatum - Warren - Booker combination is the best option for the Suns. A lineup that can help them see more success in their half court sets.
BLOB Series - Zipper Sets
Watson has two main ideas in his BLOB sets. One is to get Booker free for a baseline jumper, the other is to get Warren isolated from the top of the key.
Same idea here with Warren coming of a curl to score in isolation. If the Suns go with Tatum at the 3 they would have to sacrifice Warren’s mid-range scoring ability in BLOB sets.
This is the same BLOB action Watson will run for Warren but not coming off a curl this time.
BLOB Series - “One Up”
This is Watson’s favorite BLOB set, getting Booker open for the baseline jumper. I think Tatum is more than capable to make this shot.
One of the biggest question marks for Tatum is his elite first step going left and finishing. This is a good clip showing how he has to improve. Tatum is a prolific scorer in isolation from the elbows because of his understanding of angles.
He will need to improve his scoring ability going left from the top of the key if the Suns want to use him as a 3 in their BLOB sets.
One of the basic Horns sets you will see the Suns run is the simple, “Horns Back” action for an alley-oop. Can Tatum finish with the same ability like Chriss if he plays the 4?
I think the best option is to play Chriss as the 5. Run Horns with Tatum and Chriss.
Watson experimented the Bender and Chriss “Horns Back” here in the pre-season. With Chriss’s athletic ability, Bender’s passing ability, and Tatum’s scoring ability Watson would have decide on the best Horns combo.
This is a set Watson runs out of Horns that is similar to actions Tatum ran at Duke. Horns sets would be lethal with Chriss at the 5 and Tatum at the 4. Len does not have the ability to drive and beat his man in this action.
Poor job by Ross helping on Len for no reason, but the through cut by Warren leads to the easy finish.
This is my favorite Horns sets the Suns run. The 1-4 entry pass with a back screen set for the guard in this case Bledsoe. The Warriors switch the PnR action, Pachulia has no chance on Warren.
Duke ran a similar set for Tatum getting him the switch from the big in PnR action out of Horns. Tatum gets the tough finish to go but again it goes back to theme of how he is not as comfortable attacking from the top of the key.
Tatum relies on angles. Collins doesn’t give him the angle to drive right, so he goes for the up fake. Collins doesn’t bite but Tatum gets away with it due to his length.
This is one of the sets where Warren would have the edge over Tatum, but either way with Booker spacing the floor the Suns would be tough to stop.
Watson has a tendency to run Booker in his Fist series as the first play to start the second half. After rejecting the 2-4 cross screen Booker shoots the lane to come off a curl set by Chandler.
This is the same action here with the same game time. First play of the second half.
The Suns can open up the playbook more with Tatum’s ability. This is how Duke ran Horns to get him isolated on the right block after a 4-5 cross screen. Combine this variation with the Suns fist series and it can transform the entire action.
If a team overplays on Booker, it gives the chance for Tatum to score in isolation on the left block.
Fist Motion Flare
If you read the article I wrote on Josh Jackson, this is the most important set for draft prospects in an Earl Watson offense. I think Tatum has a chance to excel in these sets based on his footwork, rhythm, and understanding of angles in wing isolation.
Regardless of who the Suns draft I fully expect Booker to be the guard coming off the flare screen at least 80% of the time. I do think Tatum is more than capable as well.
For this action to work you need good strong side action with a capable corner three point shooter. This is why it would be critical for Tatum to make that shot consistently. Teams are going to help on Booker in all actions.
An interesting variation the Suns experimented in the pre-season was Warren at the 4 setting the flare screen. Great spacing forces Harkless to help on Booker. Warren is a better finisher at this stage than Tatum.
Watson went away from Warren setting the flare as the 4 during the regular season. It would be interesting to see how Tatum would finish in the paint.
High Elbow Splits
Booker’s passing ability coupled with Tatum’s scoring can help transform other sets the Suns were experimenting the second half of the season. I am a big fan of using Bender in these actions instead of Booker. Fully expect Watson to make those adjustments next season.
If the initial split action off the elbow does not work, Watson uses the strong side pin down to get Bledsoe for the open 3. With Tatum’s scoring ability Booker would now have another option to reverse the ball to the weak side and allow Tatum to score in isolation.
Chriss just does not have the same ability at this stage. Bender - Booker - Tatum High Elbow Splits would be some of the best in the NBA.
Importance of Strong Side Action
The key to the Watson offense is man movement and ball movement. Many of the actions result in a lot of what we saw last season, PnR or isolation basketball without the proper motion.
This is a prime example. Strong side action takes Vucevic’s eyes away from the guard and the perfect timing on the back screen opens the alley-oop.
Tatum at the 3 would need to hit the corner 3. Tatum at the 4, the action is not possible. Again, Chriss would need to be moved to the 5, this action would have the 4-5 switch.
This is another example of strong side action leading to success. Watson used this action to start games versus both the Spurs and Cavs.
Same action here to start the game. The play is designed to get Booker a three off the screen but another wrinkle the Suns could add is a 4-5 cross screen to get Tatum isolated on the left block.
Booker and Tatum have similar footwork, rhythm, and understanding of angles to score. Their parallel scoring ability can help transform the Earl Watson offense in Phoenix.
In my opinion if the Suns front office decides to pick Tatum they should use him as point forward, allowing Chriss to be the center of the future. Tatum is at his best either with the ball in transition or facing up slower forwards on the right block. Either way Tatum would give the Suns another 3 Dimensional scorer to pair with one of the best young scorers in the NBA.