(First posted at RealGM)
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 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.
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 and turning it over on just 15% of his possessions, despite his high 26.2% usage rate.
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, 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.
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 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.
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.
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, 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.
 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
 According to hoop-math
 According to our stats’ database
 According to sports-reference
 According to research by Draft Express’ Derek Bodner
 According to research by Draft Express’ Mike Schmitz
 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