Who is he?
Jayson Tatum is a 6’8 power or small forward freshman from Duke. His strengths include an NBA-ready scoring game, particularly in isolation, and a body that can work as a small 4 or big 3. He’s projected to go in the top six.
What to like
More than any of the guys the Sixers could draft at three, Tatum possesses an NBA-ready game. He has advanced footwork and moves and can score from every level of the court. He’s strong in isolation, which translates well to the NBA game. He can shoot the three, hit from mid-range, and score with his back to the basket. He reminds me a lot of Jahlil Okafor playing one position lower, and it’s not just because he went to Duke. He has an old-school scoring touch and advanced moves well beyond that of most 19-year-olds. There’s really no spot on the floor where he could get the ball and you’d be worried that he couldn’t make something happen from there, including in transition. He will likely have a very long, successful career. He just looks like an NBA player.
What not to like
Let’s start with that Okafor comparison. Tatum has somewhat of an old-school game that is valued less and less in the NBA. Like Okafor, he relies on isolation and can slow an offense down to crawl while he goes to work (if not quite as extreme as Okafor because he plays farther from the basket). Also, as Adam has pointed out on our podcast about football prospects, his game is polished but there’s no one physical trait that makes you go “WOW” and think Tatum can dominate in any one area, which is not what you want from a player taken this high in the draft. He also shoots a lot of jump shots, another skill that isn’t really valued in the modern NBA. His three-point range is OK but not great, and he’s not quite big enough to play back-to-the-basket against most NBA 4s, so he winds up taking a lot of low percentage mid-range shots. He’s not super athletic. He is certainly big and strong enough for the NBA, but he just sort of looks like he’s in slow motion most of the time, and he won’t really factor around the rim. His best asset is something most people don’t want right now. His ceiling is low. He’s just unexciting. And yeah, the Duke and Okafor thing bothers me.
Would he fit the Sixers?
Not really. He doesn’t fit their style of offense and I feel like a lot of the same criticisms leveled at Okafor (mostly from the fans) would be directed Tatum. He’ll get the ball and turn into a bit of a black hole while Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons just stand around, which isn’t ideal.
Why would the Sixers draft him?
He’s kind of a sure-thing. His game, like Okafor’s, is NBA ready. He’ll instantly be able to step on the court and play reliable, if unremarkable, minutes. If the Sixers are ready to turn the page and go into win-now mode and sign or trade for a guard, Tatum would be able to contribute right away without hurting the team defensively.
Why wouldn’t the Sixers draft him?
At three, he neither fills a need (like Monk or Fox) nor presents high upside (like Jackson). It would be an uninspired, safe pick. No one wants that.