Jayson Tatum Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM)

CONTEXT

Jayson Tatum had somewhat of an up and down season in his one year at Duke.

The six-foot-eight combo forward started the season injured, missing the first couple of months with a foot strain, but Duke managed to survive his absence just fine thanks to Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen fueling a furious drive-and-kick attack.

When he returned, Tatum had some trouble fitting into that identity and played primarily as a pure post up scorer in his first few games back, acting mostly outside the ecosystem on slower-developing plays.

As the season went on, Duke incorporated Tatum into its drive-and-kick sequences a bit more but it never quite looked as good as it did when Kennard and Allen were leading the charge earlier in the year, which was crucial in order to make up for its problems on other end. Consequently, the team lost four of its first seven conference games.

Nonetheless, as Allen dealt with his unsportsmanlike conduct suspension and had his role within the team diminished as the season winded down, Duke evolved into a team who still ran plenty of motion but looked to get Tatum the ball in his spots even more regularly and he led the team in usage rate during conference play.

As Tatum got healthier and got going, averaging 19.2 points per 40 minutes against ACC competition, Duke righted the ship, eventually finishing the season with 11 wins in 18 conference games and winning the conference tournament in Brooklyn.

Duke went down in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, losing to eventual Final Four participant South Carolina, but Tatum did his part, finishing that game with 15 points on 12 shots in 34 minutes.

Overall, he impressed last season and solidified his status as a top five prospect, as Draft Express currently ranks him fourth in its top 100.

However, Tatum didn’t show a lot of improvement in terms of playing in more of a team-oriented manner. And considering he played on a team with a good deal of talent around him[1] and within a well-structured offense that emphasized the sort of ball movement and people movement that the NBA is looking for these days, the fact that Tatum didn’t prove to be a natural fit is a cause for concern.

SHOT CREATION

Tatum’s biggest selling point is his individual scoring.

He’s not a particularly impressive athlete with an explosive first step who can just blow by his man but has, instead, very polished ball skills and a collection of dribble moves to create his own shot one-on-one, which is very noticeable when you realize he just turned 19.

Handling from the perimeter, Tatum has shown some shiftiness crossing over his defender side to side to force him off balance, which as consequence have made his jab step and hesitation moves very effective as well.

He’s shown core strength in his 204-pound frame to maintain his balance through contact as he gets all the way to the basket and protects the ball reasonably well in traffic – taking over a third of his shots at the rim[2] and turning it over on just 15% of his possessions, despite his high 26.2% usage rate[3].

Tatum has flashed some explosiveness elevating out of one foot to dunk with power in a crowd but is for the most part a basket-level finisher — using his length to extend his way around rim protectors and even flashing some ability to adjust his body in the air for up-and-under and reverse finishes – converting his attempts within close range at a 62% clip.

He is nothing special as a foul drawer at this point of his development but did average a solid 5.8 foul shots per 40 minutes last season[4], a figure that is good but not great in large part because Tatum has shown a substantial reliance on his in-between game.

In isolation, Tatum consistently earns himself enough separation to pull-up from mid-range, rising up with great balance and fully extending himself on the release, which makes it tough for most defenders to contest his shot effectively. A third of his shots were two-point jumpers and he nailed them at a 39.4% clip, which is more impressive when you consider he averaged 5.2 mid-range shots per 40 minutes.

Another reason so much of his shot-portfolio is deadzone-based is that Tatum also does a large part of his shot creation out of the post.

He is not very physical trying to get deep position and hasn’t shown any sort of inclination for liking power moves, so you don’t see him trying to bang against true big men when he is the biggest wing on a four-out lineup. Instead, Tatum prefers to rely on his footwork, regardless if against bigger or smaller defenders.

Against bigger defenders, Tatum doesn’t mind getting pushed away from the low post and even seems to prefer catching the ball at the elbow in order to face up his defender. From that spot, he has the option of jab stepping and rising up for a no-dribble jumper or ripping through and driving around him to get to the basket.

Against smaller defenders, Tatum does work to get the ball lower in the block and looks to back down his man for a couple of dribbles to set up his turnaround, fade-away jumper, which he is very successful at converting, as he averaged 1.303 points per possession on post-ups[5].

But for as good as he looks in instances where he is creating his own shot, whether it’s driving from the perimeter or catching the ball with his back to the basket, Tatum’s style of play has some obvious limitations as far as searching for the most optimal way to attack a defense goes. He averaged just 0.88 points per possession on isolations[6] and posted a .507 effective field goal percentage on his 365 total live-ball attempts last season.

Tatum ran pick-and-roll in high school 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.

But at Duke, he did not do a whole lot in terms of turning the corner or getting into the lane off a high ball screen, instead preferring to wait for switches in these instances and attacking his man one-on-one.

Tatum flashed some altruistic play on drop-off passes and finding the eventual cutter out of the post, assisting on 12.4% of Duke’s scores when he was on the floor.

But he caught-and-held an alarming amount, at times disrupting some ball movement sequences and permitting the defense to get out of scramble mode and reset. Even his assists from the post were rarely simple touch passes, as he’s shown an inclination for needing to probe the defense rather than reading the game more instinctively. Making these decisions quicker is a clear area where Tatum needs to improve in order to actualize his star potential.

He is good at what he does but because what he does is generally tough to do at a high-efficiency level, Tatum posted a 111.3 offensive rating, which ranked sixth out of seven rotation players at Duke with a minimum of 300 minutes played.

But while the shots he takes might seem like low value propositions during most parts of the game, Tatum remains a prospect rated at the very top of the board because his ability to get his shot off at any time against any defense is still valued highly late in games, when running deliberate offense becomes tougher.

WEAK-SIDE OFFENSE

Tatum might become more conducive to fitting into a team-oriented offense if he continues to improve his catch-and-shoot stroke, though.

His release is still a bit methodical and he was only an open shot shooter in his one year at Duke, nailing just 34.2% of his 117 three-point shots last season.

As the biggest wing on a four-out lineup, Tatum can be a credible threat spotting up off the ball. But he needs to improve the quickness in his release in order to be an option as the smallest forward on prototypical two-big lineups because the perimeter pros closeout faster and Tatum has shown to be a bit gun shy on instances where closeouts shouldn’t have prevented him from pulling the trigger.

He also didn’t show any sort of diversity to his catch-and-shoot jumper — as far as coming of pindown screens, sprinting around staggered screens or taking quick shot out of the pick-and-pop go. Because of his body type and style of play, a player Tatum is often compared to, as his potential ceiling, is Carmelo Anthony. But being able to shoot on the move the way Anthony can and add gravity with his mere movement from a spot to another outside the lane without touching the ball is a skill Tatum has not yet shown.

He also hasn’t shown a whole lot as a cutter.

DEFENSE

Defensively, Tatum surprised with his versatility and used his instincts and physical profile to create some events but ultimately fell just shy of proving himself as an impact player on that end.

Duke employed a fairly aggressive switching scheme for most of the season and Tatum found himself matched up against smaller players regularly. In isolation, he proved himself able to get in a stance and slide his feet laterally to stay in front or keep pace on straight line drives, aside from using his reach well to pick their pockets[7], though he didn’t optimize his strength advantage to contain dribble penetration through contact all that often.

Tatum wasn’t stressed into pick-and-roll defense a whole lot in these instances but his frame suggests he is probably too big to navigate over ball screens very well. So the flexibility he offers is as someone who can switch onto a guard midway through the shot clock (baiting the opponent into an individual matchup and disrupting them out of a two-man game or a motion set that stresses the defense as a whole), instead of someone whose primary task can be guarding an opposing lead ball handler on an every possession basis.

Tatum played as the biggest wing on four-out lineups pretty much the entire time he was at Duke and was often matched up against the opponent’s smaller big man. He wasn’t all that interested in physical play and was prone to getting bullied by tougher guys from time to time but was attentive to his boxout responsibilities more often than not, collecting 19.7% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor.

Due to his role as a “big”, Tatum was relied on as the last line of defense a decent amount and impressed with his instincts rotating off the weak-side. He proved himself attentive to his help responsibilities when Duke showed hard or hedged-and-recovered against middle pick-and-roll, and put his eight-foot-10 standing reach to good use in rim protection, averaging 1.4 blocks per 40 minutes.

That said, you could tell that if Tatum had a little more length or was a more explosive athlete leaping off the ground in a pinch, he would be close to an elite difference maker since there were so many times when he was in position at the right time but just missed blocking a shot.

Nonetheless, Tatum has shown plenty to suggest that he will be someone who can execute a scheme and that mere ability of existing on defense without compromising a system can be considered a strength these days, given the level of offensive creativity trying to expose terrible defenders is at an all-time high.

[1] With three other prospects on Draft Express’ top 100, aside from Allen, who would also be ranked if he had put his name in the early entry list, and a couple of other high end recruits like Chase Jeter and Marques Bolden

[2] According to hoop-math

[3] According to our stats’ database

[4] According to sports-reference

[5] According to research by Draft Express’ Derek Bodner

[6] According to research by Draft Express’ Mike Schmitz

[7] Six-foot-11 wingspan helped him average 1.6 assists per 40 minutes

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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Jayson Tatum Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM)

Tatum started the season injured and was a bit underwhelming in his first couple of months back, as a part of a Duke team that lost four of its first seven ACC games. But as Duke righted the ship, subsequently going on a seven-game winning streak and finishing the season with 11 wins in 18 conference games, Tatum went back to looking like a top five pick.

The six-foot-eight combo forward is a classic matchup nightmare in this era of basketball, when players his size are more comfortably used as “big men” in four-out lineups.

Tatum is very skilled for someone his age and can take opposing wings into the post or use his strength to create separation and launch mid-range jumpers in isolation, which he nailed at a 40% clip this season.

If guarded by a prototypical big, Tatum can spot up from beyond the arc or handle the ball in pick-and-roll, though these are two things he hasn’t shown to be legit strengths of his this season, despite the fact he did them reasonably well in high school, as he hit just a third of his three-point shots and wasn’t put in the two-man game a whole lot by Duke.

As a defender, Tatum has been a pleasant surprise, as he’s flashed the ability to bend his knees to get low in a stance and stay in front of smaller players, aside from showing decent feel for making plays in the passing lane and making himself a presence near the basket in help defense, as he’s averaged 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per 40 minutes.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

Jayson Tatum Scouting Report

CONTEXT

Jayson Tatum missed the first month of the season due to a foot strain and his return was supposed to make Duke a juggernaut. But as is often the case in basketball, once you change one factor, the entire equation changes. That fluid drive-and-kick attack from earlier in the season has been altered to incorporate Tatum’s slower-developing style of play.

This occurrence has led to some concerns over whether the nature of his game is too individualistic to succeed in the ball movement era.

Tatum remains, nonetheless, highly thought of due to his overall skill package. Draft Express currently ranks him sixth in its 2017 board.

DEFENSE

Tatum’s most impressive development so far has been his defense. When I profiled him in August, I wrote of him as a “whatever” defender; someone who puts in decent effort but didn’t make much of an impact.

So far, I’ve been proven wrong. Tatum is showing himself to be a very versatile defender, currently posting the lowest defensive rating on the team – according to basketball-reference. Duke has switched very aggressively over the last couple of games against Elon and Virginia Tech and he has been a plausible asset picking up smaller players at the top of their set defense.

He can bend his knees to get low in a stance and has worked hard to move his feet. These opponents have not stressed him into ball-screens and his six-foot-eight, 204-pound frame suggests he should struggle against those but Tatum has shown adequate lateral quickness to stay in front in isolation and has used his reach (six-foot-11 wingspan) to pick the pockets of these opponents, as he’s averaged 2.3 steals per 40 minutes.

Tatum stays in a stance off the ball and remains focused, cutting off a couple backdoor cut attempts in impressive fashion for someone his age. He’s been attentive to his rotation responsibilities and made plays at the basket. Tatum is not an explosive leaper but has used his eight-foot-10 standing reach to contribute in rim protection, as he’s averaged 2.5 blocks per 40 minutes and collected 21% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor.

BELOW THE FOUL LINE

In his first few games back, specifically against Florida and UNLV, Tatum was used a pure old school power forward; with all of his offense coming below the foul line – at the elbows and in the low post. And in these areas, he excels.

Tatum has a well developed short-range game for an 18-year-old. He can get a seal against just about anyone in his age group and has shown a lot of patience operating with his back to the basket. His footwork is pretty fluid and the touch in his shot is excellent. Tatum often looks for a turnaround jumper but can also counter with a hook over the defender’s left shoulder.

He can get by his man on short straight line drives from the elbow to the goal and finish through contact. Tatum is not an explosive leaper out of one foot and hasn’t yet shown the ability to adjust his body in the air for reverse finishes around length like he did in high school but hasn’t had much trouble producing at the basket at the collegiate level either. According to hoop-math, he’s converted 16 of his 27 shots at the rim and averaged seven foul shots per 40 minutes.

As a corner shooter, Tatum is a credible threat. His release is not lightning quick but he’s proven able to get his shot off before the closeout, though that’s something he’ll obviously need to continue working on since those closeouts are a lot faster in the pros.

ABOVE THE FOUL LINE

In the last couple of games, Tatum has played more of a perimeter-oriented game. Against Elon, Duke involved him some more in their drive-and-kick sequences and even used him as a screener on a couple of pick-and-pops. Then midway through that game and throughout the entire game against Virginia Tech, Tatum assumed more ball-handling responsibility due to Grayson Allen’s absence. He took 36 shots in these last two appearances, which boosted his usage rate up to 29% – a team high.

Tatum can’t get by his man on speed any better than he did high school and relies on his dribble moves (crossover, in-and-out dribble, spin) to get separation to launch from mid-range in isolation. He was able to make these tough shots in the past but has been cold so far, missing 22 of his 31 two-point jumpers.

Tatum also did better in lower levels creating out of the pick-and-roll but that’s yet to be seen at Duke. When he’s gotten a ball-screen, Tatum has mostly looked to take step-in three-pointers instead of seeking for opportunities to penetrate off the dribble, though it’s fair to point Duke’s spacing wasn’t as great against Virginia Tech with Allen out and Matt Jones going through a cold streak.

Nonetheless, he’s got just one unassisted make from beyond the arc[1] so far and his 12.5% assist-rate is mostly a result of Duke’s ecosystem, where every extra pass around the horn can become an assist opportunity, rather than any real substance he’s created for others out of dribble penetration.

[1] Iffy shot selection has tanked his three-point percentage to .300.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

Jayson Tatum Scouting Report

(First posted at Upside & Motor.)

CONTEXT

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.

OFF BALL

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.

DEFENSE

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