(First posted at Upside & Motor.)
Jayson Tatum is currently the top wing on the board, according to Draft Express. In a typical class, he would be under strong consideration for entering the season as the top prospect overall. Yet on this one, he’s probably the least publicized teenager in the top five.
ESPN ranked him third in his high school class after what was an extremely productive season. Tatum was part of the United States Junior National Team that won the 2015 FIBA World Championships U19 in Greece, led the Saint Louis Eagles to a title at the Nike EYBL Circuit and subsequently carried Chaminade to its second ever state championship in Missouri.
Possessing a well developed frame for someone his age and a crafty style of play that does not shy away from contact, Tatum is the rare teenager who could probably be put in an NBA game right now and hold his own from a physical-standpoint.
SHOT CREATION & FINISHING
The biggest appeal regarding Tatum’s skill-set is his ability to handle the ball and create shots against a set defense.
His handle is only OK, as he’s prone to getting the ball stripped in traffic, turning it over on average five times per 40 minutes in the 2015 EYBL circuit – according to stats researched at d1circuit.com.
But he’s proven himself a willing passer on the move and flashed some intriguing court vision to make crosscourt passes across his body out of middle pick-and-roll and high-low-type passes to big men diving to the basket diagonally on side pick-and-roll, assisting on 17% of the United States’ scores when he was on the floor at the Worlds U19 – per RealGM, and averaging 3.9 assists per 40 minutes in AAU ball.
What Tatum does best at this point of his development, however, is creating for himself. He reads the two defenders involved in the two-man game fairly well in terms of whether using or declining the ball-screen gives him the better path to the basket.
At the rim, Tatum lacks superior athleticism to finish with explosiveness but has shown phenomenal ability to adjust his body in the air and great touch on non-dunk finishes around length. His 204-pound frame also invited plenty of contact in the junior ranks, earning him 13.9 foul shots per 40 minutes in last year’s EYBL circuit.
Without the aid of a screen, Tatum often struggles to get all the way to the basket off the bounce. He is unable to stop-and-start and just blow by his man.
But Tatum has a few dribble moves to create separation; an in-and-out dribble, the ability to go side-to-side and a well coordinated spin move. He can maintain his balance through contact, stop on a dime, step back and pull up in rhythm, elevating with pretty good balance, fading away some to get his shot off more comfortably. He has already proven himself an above average shooter off the dribble, even flashing some three-point range on one-dribble pull-ups.
Playing a little more as a weak-side threat with the United States Junior National Team, which relied more heavily on Jaylen Brunson’s work in high pick-and-roll and post ups by their centers in the half-court, Tatum was less impressive.
He is a capable open shot shooter off the catch on spot-ups at this point of his development but only that. Tatum sets a wide base, which makes it difficult for him to release quickly before the opponent contests his shot effectively. It also prevents him from being the sort of shooter who works off screens, sets his feet quickly and lets it fly.
Sometimes reluctant to pull the trigger, Tatum hit four of only 10 three-point shots in seven appearances at the Worlds U19 and missed 21 of his 25 such attempts in 25 games with the Saint Louis Eagles in the EYBL circuit a summer ago.
Tatum has shown to be a reasonably average team defender, if not necessarily one with a lot of potential to be an impact player on that end.
He gets on a stance and showed lateral quickness to stay in front of dribble drivers of a similar physical profile and uses his six-foot-11 wingspan to make plays in the passing lanes from time to time but struggles navigating over ball-screens, suggesting he is probably not built to pick up smaller players on switches regularly.
Tatum has proven himself able to boxout bigger players, offering some flexibility to be moved up a position on smallball lineups, but his contributions through blocks and defensive rebounds have been about average, so that option shouldn’t be without consequences.
For the most part, he’s a weak-side defender who rotates inside to take up space and crowd driving lanes but lacks the athleticism to make plays at the rim or run shooters off the three-point line on closeouts.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara