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B/R NBA Roundtable: Who Would You Cut, Tatum, Fox, Mitchell or Booker?

Bleacher Report NBA StaffFeatured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2019

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) guards Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) as he drives in the second half during an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 28, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Bleacher Report put the power of the poll in trusted hands Monday, letting hoops fans decide from inside the B/R app which topic our NBA experts would tackle next. 

The results nearly called for overtime, but you, the dog-day NBA seekers you are, have officially chosen your own adventure:

B/R Nation has spoken.

With the topic set and friendships about to be tested, B/R rallied a group of writers to tip off arguably the toughest debate from this week's poll. 

Between Jayson Tatum, De'Aaron Fox, Donovan Mitchell and Devin Booker, who is the odd man out if one simply has got to go?

  

Tatum Can't Initiate Like His Peers

Four budding stars. All incredibly talented. All flawed. It's easy to pick apart stats and debate impact, but to me, this comes down to role.

Booker is a premier scorer. It's worth repeating: Booker gets buckets. But his value is difficult to gauge because the Phoenix Suns are at the bottom of the league year after year. His defensive effort and ability put viewers in states of physical discomfort.

Fox is a blur and a ballhawk. His pace alone vaulted the Sacramento Kings into relevance. His improved three-point shot makes him a terror in the half court, rounding out his game and opening driving and passing lanes.

Jumping from 30.7 percent during his rookie season to 37.1 percent on relatively low volume (2.9 attempts per game) during his sophomore campaign brings up questions about how real that jumper is. But if it is for real, he could be the best of this group one day.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Mitchell has struggled with efficiency throughout his career, but a lot of that is due to his usage. Being the leading offensive weapon on a playoff-caliber team matters. He's the most complete player of the group and has proved it at the highest level.

Tatum is the odd man out. His defense, efficiency and general archetype are at a premium in today's NBA, but he has never had to be the offensive initiator throughout a season, which gives the others a leg up.

It's hard to imagine Tatum producing the same offensive impact on the Suns, Utah Jazz or Kings.

Will Gottlieb

Jayson Tatum cuts: 1

      

Fox Doesn't Fit the Game Like His Peers

At the outset, it should be noted that all four of these guys have a strong chance to be among the league's best players. The "one gotta go" setup is tough. But, if forced to choose, Fox is the odd man out.

Of the four, Fox is the furthest from positionless. He's a point guard—probably exclusively. Mitchell is the same height (6'3"), but his wingspan (6'10") is almost four inches longer and makes him a more viable defender against wings.

To drive this point home a bit further, Basketball Reference has 96 percent of Fox's career minutes at the 1 and 4 percent at the 2. Booker and Tatum have each logged meaningful minutes at three positions. Mitchell has spent just two-thirds of his time at the 2, with the other third coming at the point.

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MARCH 04:  Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz looks for a pass during a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Vivint Smart Home Arena on March 4, 2019 in Salt Lake City, Utah.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agree
Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

In today's game, positional versatility is huge, particularly on defense.

What's more, each of the other three has probably shown a little more to this point in their short NBA careers. Fox is fourth in the group in value over replacement player since the start of his career. That probably doesn't give him enough credit for last season's breakout, but it provides a bigger sample to work with.

Again, any of these four has a chance to wind up as the best of the group. With his speed, leadership and command of the offense, Fox even appears poised to revive an entire franchise. But the ability to morph into various roles puts the other three slightly ahead.

Andy Bailey

Jayson Tatum cuts: 1

De'Aaron Fox cuts: 1

       

Booker Doesn't Impact Team Winning Like His Peers

As strange as it sounds, the worst thing that ever happened to Booker's career was the infamous 70-point game in March 2017.

That his crowning career achievement was a completely meaningless round number in a game his team lost, on a night when his teammates were fouling intentionally to get the ball back to get him more shots, has only cemented his reputation as a good-stats-on-a-bad-team guy. That perception will not change until the Suns start winning in a meaningful way, which doesn't look like it's happening anytime soon.

It's not entirely fair to hold the organization's lack of success against Booker. But in their young careers, Tatum, Mitchell and Fox have already proved they can impact winning.

Mitchell and Tatum have performed in the playoffs. And while Fox's Kings missed the cut during his second season, they had their most respectable year in over a decade and he was a finalist for the league's Most Improved Player award.

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 30: Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns smiles during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on March 30, 2019 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading
Barry Gossage/Getty Images

Until Booker and the Suns play in some games that matter and he does more than put up big fantasy numbers, it will be impossible to gauge just where he fits into the NBA's hierarchy of young stars.

Sean Highkin

Jayson Tatum: 1

De'Aaron Fox: 1

Devin Booker: 1

      

Tatum's All-Around Game Doesn't Measure Up

Tatum has been more sizzle than steak thus far in his career.

After he was forced into a big role during the 2018 playoffs with no Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward, we all fell in love with the rookie's potential, which culminated in a thunderous Game 7 dunk on LeBron James.

While a breakout sophomore season was expected, Tatum gave Boston a ho-hum 15.7 points per game after averaging 18.5 in the playoffs as a rookie. His three-point shooting dropped from 43.4 to 37.3 percent, and his overall shooting dipped, as well (47.5 to 45.0 percent). The Celtics underperformed nearly all season, and Tatum's presumed jump to stardom was put on hold.

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 30: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics dribbles during the second half against the Charlotte Hornets at TD Garden on January 30, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, b
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Compared to Booker, Mitchell and Fox, Tatum is at the bottom of this ladder of rising stars.

Looking at the previous season, Tatum ranks last among the group in scoring and assists (2.1 per game), and he's the only one who didn't lead his team in points (Mitchell), assists (Fox) or both (Booker). Advanced stats tell us he was pretty average in 2018-19 with a 15.1 player efficiency rating (last among the group), minus-0.8 box plus/minus (last) and 0.8 VORP (again, last).

With Kyrie Irving and Al Horford both leaving Boston in free agency, Tatum will have to take on a major role on both sides of the ball, even following the addition of All-Star point guard Kemba Walker.

While the Duke product's future is still bright, Booker, Mitchell and Fox are all better players right now.

Greg Swartz

Jayson Tatum: 2

De'Aaron Fox: 1

Devin Booker: 1

Donovan Mitchell: 0

     

Tatum Can't Make Others Better Yet

De'Aaron Fox has gotten better every season since his college days at Kentucky. His skill and feel have improved, and he still has plenty of room to grow. Plus, he's got makes-players-better potential. 

Tatum doesn't as much. When he's off, it's more unlikely he can still be effective compared to Fox, who can shoot poorly and still create shots for teammates or apply defensive pressure. 

Devin Booker is just too far ahead of Tatum as both a scorer and playmaker. It's easy to forget Booker is only 22 years old and Tatum is 21.

Blaming the Phoenix Suns' lousy record on Booker also seems lazy. He just averaged 26.6 points and 6.8 assists on 46.7 percent shooting. What's he going to look like in four seasons, when he's 26, shooting above 35 percent from three? His offensive upside is too exciting.

Swap Tatum for Booker, and Boston becomes more dangerous.

Donovan Mitchell is also further ahead of Tatum as a scorer and playmaker. I'll take Mitchell's explosiveness and three-point shot-making over Tatum's fancy mid-range game. Down 10 in the fourth quarter, I'd rather have Mitchell, who's better at turning into a microwave.

Tatum will obviously be fine. I wouldn't bet against him making an All-Star team one day. But Fox, Booker and Mitchell are also special, and I'm buying more into their games and trajectories. 

—Jonathan Wasserman

Jayson Tatum: 3

De'Aaron Fox: 1

Devin Booker: 1

Donovan Mitchell: 0



       

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