NBA Scouts Dish on Boston Celtics Rookie Jayson Tatum

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJuly 27, 2017

NBA Scouts Dish on Boston Celtics Rookie Jayson Tatum

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    A key storyline to emerge from the Boston Celtics' trade of the NBA draft's No. 1 pick: President of basketball operations Danny Ainge's obvious confidence in Jayson Tatum, because it wasn't shared by every scout around the league. 

    Nobody from the class had been under scouts' watch longer than Tatum, who was first selected to USA basketball back in 2013.

    He's had their attention since he was 14, standing out with distinguishable NBA tools and skills through three gold medals, every All-American showcase event and one season at Duke.

    But questions about his style of play have left some scouts hesitant about projecting regular All-Star appearances. 

    The concerns clearly didn't faze Ainge. For the Celtics, Tatum's 29 college games merely confirmed their previously established belief. 

    Bleacher Report reached out to scouts to see how they view Tatum after Boston's move to get him, which meant passing on the chance to add Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball.

The Draw to Tatum

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    Playing most of his freshman season at 18 years old (turned 19 March 3), Tatum averaged 16.8 points and looked notably sharper fundamentally than Josh Jackson and Jonathan Isaac—the draft's other highest-profile forwards.

    Scout No. 1: "Very versatile and skilled. Played some point guard in high school. He'll be great in the new NBA that rewards guys who can shoot, pass and dribble."

    Scout No. 2: "As one of the youngest players in the draft, Tatum has huge upside. His improvement from the beginning of his freshman year to the postseason was probably better than any other player in the draft. I expect that steep learning curve to continue as he and his game matures. Great kid, great work ethic, great talent. It's only a matter of time."

    Scout No. 3: "Tatum is the most polished player in the draft. His footwork is beyond advanced for his age. Always loved taking and making difficult shots dating back to high school. And that's what he did at Duke and summer league."

    Difficult shot-making was frequently mentioned, particularly after what scouts saw in summer league, where Tatum averaged 18.2 points. He put on a scoring clinic that highlighted both advanced shot-creation and the ability to knock down contested pull-ups, step-backs and fallaways out of the post.

    Scout No. 4: "Someone with his ability to hit really, really tough shots is tremendously valuable at the end of a game when getting off a good shot isn't that easy. I think he might be one of those players whose shot-making ability is extremely valuable in that scenario."

Questions About Shot Selection, Style of Play

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    Despite Tatum's NBA tools, unique polish and production, some scouts still have their reservations about his playing style.

    He's a one-on-one stud—occasionally to a fault. Though praised for his ability to create and score against set half-court defenses, he's knocked for relying on low-percentage looks and a tendency to halt ball movement. 

    Scout No. 5: "His shot selection and inability to find the open man in certain situations were concerns for me. That said, I still had him very high, I just wasn't quite as high on him as most."

    Scout No. 6: "He's definitely not a shoot-it-or-move-it guy, so that will impact his ability to be a winner when he becomes a focal point of an offense. But he'll score points and make a lot of money."

    Scout No. 7: "When those shots [two-point jumpers] are going in, it certainly looks great. But there is so little margin for error for a player who will have one of the more difficult mixes of shot attempts in the league."

    Scout No. 4: "He's an interesting guy to peg down. I had him projected pretty well in models, but I'm not the biggest fan of his game overall."

Different NBA Comparisons, One Common Theme

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    Nearly a dozen NBA names were tossed out by scouts as comparisons for Tatum. But somehow, no two scouts mentioned the same pro. 

    Scout No. 3: "A taller Paul Pierce."

    Scout No. 6: "Tatum feels like a better talent to me [than Harrison Barnes]. But definitely in the Melo, Tobias Harris, Jabari Parker, Barnes mold."

    Scout No. 1: "His game is definitely a bit old school. Some of his one-legged step-back fadeaways are Nowitzki-ish."

    Scout No. 3: "I like three different comparisons: Rudy Gay, Danny Granger, Gordon Hayward."

    Scout No. 7: talked about Tatum having to replicate DeMar DeRozan's precision based on his current shot selection.

    There was, however, a common theme among each comparison nominated.

    Scouts clearly see a mid-range scorer capable of becoming a top option in an offense. The question is where Tatum winds up falling on the spectrum of comparisons—closer to the Pierce and Anthony All-Star side or the less valued one near Barnes.

    As Scout No. 7: put it, for Tatum, the difference between being an impact player or an "empty-calories" one comes down to  "everything else of his game," including playmaking, defense and rebounding. 

Scouts' Emphasis on the Three-Ball

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    Tatum took more two-point jumpers (127) than shots at the rim (121) and three-pointers (117) at Duke, which had some scouts in analytics calling for change.

    A number of them brought up the importance of Tatum extending his game out behind the arc.

    Scout No. 3: "Again, he's the most polished player in the draft, but I wonder how integrable and valuable a killer mid-range, isolation operator is in today's league. And that's what Tatum is until he proves his three-point shot is dependable in the pros."

    He still looked capable from deep at Duke. He hit 40 threes at a so-so 34.2 percent clip . It's also worth noting he often played power forward and operated near the high posts and short corners.

    Some scouts were optimistic about Tatum developing his range, which not only creates a more well-rounded attack, but makes it easier to score off the ball, where he'll often play in a loaded Celtics lineup.

    Scout No. 4: "I'm interested to see how many three-point attempts he takes at the pro level. He took enough at Duke and his free-throw percentage and three-point percentage were high enough that he should be a serviceable shooter in the NBA. He needs to take a similar amount in the pros or I'm unsure how he can contribute efficiently to his team's offense, except in the scenario I described [at the end of games]."

    Scout No. 6: "I think he's a very talented player. His upside is going to be his ability to improve on his shot and stretch it to three. I think he will be able to in time." 

What to Expect, Development in Boston

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    Eastern Conference finalists don't typically have top-three picks in the draft. Tatum is in a unique spot compared to other lottery prospects, most of whom should receive minutes right away for weaker teams.

    Boston's additions of Gordon Hayward and Marcus Morris make it even tougher to see Tatum's path toward the rotation, in spite of him being perceived as one of the more NBA-ready rookies.

    Scout No. 3: "On a rebuilding, young team, he'd average 15 points per game as a rookie, easy. I thought that all year. On the Celtics? I don't know. He's going to be behind Hayward, Jae Crowder, Morris and you could make a case that Jaylen Brown will be called upon first, if the team needs a defender.

    "Luckily, Tatum can play small ball in a pinch. But he won't have an opportunity to tear it up early. That said, it wouldn't be shocking if late-season flashes make him too good to bury in the reserves of a rotation come playoff time."

    Tatum is bound to get an opportunity at some point. We'll likely see flashes of one-on-one moves that mirror many of today's stars' and fuel more hype for his sophomore season. 

    But based on the Celtics' current roster, Tatum looks headed for an inconsistent bench role behind veterans. Will that hurt his development? 

    Scout No. 8: "I think landing in Boston helps. There is less pressure on him and more weapons around him. It's a good way of being eased into it and learning." 


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    Jonathan Wasserman covers the NBA draft for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @NBADraftWass.


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