Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics’ Rookie Small Forward, is the Next…
When the Boston Celtics took Jayson Tatum with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, former player turned broadcaster Jalen Rose compared the Duke product to Danny Granger.
Coming from a network that often reaches farther than Deontay Wilder’s jab (one commentator had the unmitigated gall to mention Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac in the same sentence as Anthony Davis.), it was spot-on analysis. The 6’8″, 205-pound Tatum and Granger, who played nine seasons in the league after being taken 17th by the Indiana Pacers in 2005, have similar builds and skills.
Granger was the same height when he came into the NBA, but was already a full-grown man weighing in at 225 pounds. Their numbers were also comparable. At Duke, Tatum averaged 16.8 points on 45.2 percent shooting from the field, including 34.2 percent from three-point range and 84.9 percent from the free-throw line. Granger put up 16.7 points, shooting 49.6 percent from the field, 46.6 percent from beyond the arc and 75.3 percent from the charity stripe during his college career.
But already, the former Blue Devil’s stock is rising higher.
Tatum balled so hard in both the Utah and Las Vegas summer leagues, dropping 18.2 points while connecting on 44.5 percent of his looks to go along with 8.9 rebounds in 32.5 minutes per game through six appearances. The 19-year-old small forward is three years younger than Granger was at this juncture in his professional journey.
Now, we could sit back and simply enjoy watching him develop without labeling him the next so-and-so, then see how it all plays out in the grand scheme. We could also adopt a Vegan diet, exclusively drink alkaline water and organic pressed juices, work out five times per week, get eight hours of sleep every night and save 20 percent of our income. But we aren’t about to do any of that, are we?
So without further ado, I present to you four totally unnecessary, yet feasible (to varying degrees) trajectories for Tatum.
Gay is the current NBA player to whom Tatum most easily compares. Both are do-it-all—well, at least offensively—combo forwards who are matchup nightmares for opposing coaching staffs due to their size and multi-faceted scoring abilities.
Isaiah Thomas (7th at 19.7) and Gordon Hayward (28th at 15.8) both ranked in the top 30 for shot attempts during 2016-17. So, it’s highly unlikely Tatum will double his rookie output and lead the Celtics in scoring in his second year, even if Boston doesn’t re-sign Thomas. That’s what Gay did for the 2007-08 Memphis Grizzlies when the former UConn star went for 20.1 points per game, the second-highest average of his career. He shot 50.7 percent from within the arc, including 61.6 percent near or at the rim, 46.3 percent from three-to-10 feet, 39.8 percent from 10-to-16 feet and an impressive 45.4 percent on two-point jumpers beyond the free-throw line.
According to Hoop-Math, 67.4 percent of Tatum’s shots were layups, dunks or threes, and he sank 47.1 percent of such attempts. But his play this summer is proof positive he can get it in from anywhere, suggesting he, like Gay, who’s only put up fewer than 18 points per game once in the last 10 seasons, will be an effective scorer for years to come. You just can’t stop Tatum from scoring. His bag is way too deep:
Maybe Rose was just being modest, but he used to get down. At one point, he had the distinction of being the highest-paid player in NBA history never to be named an All-Atar with career earnings toppling well over $100 million.
During his most successful stint, from 1999-2003, Rose averaged 20.3 points, 4.8 assists and 4.7 rebounds. During that time, he helped the Indiana Pacers to their only Finals appearance in 2000, leading the team in scoring while playing alongside Hall of Famer Reggie Miller and Mark Jackson, fourth on the all-time assists list, among others.
A rare 6’8″ point guard, Rose transitioned himself into a Swiss Army Knife guard/forward after three years at Michigan and helped seven franchises over the course of 13 years.
Tatum is definitely more useful attacking and creating his own offense, as opposed to initiating sets and assisting others, so you wouldn’t expect him to be the distributor Rose was. He had just two games with five or more assists at Duke. But if you package him with an elite shooter and a pass-first point guard, he could serve in the same capacity and aid anyone in reaching the Promised Land.
And that’s only if he doesn’t evolve into a No. 1 option himself.
As a first-year player, Tatum is a carbon copy of Elliott, physically. The retired San Antonio Spurs wingman, a former champion and two-time All-Star, eventually bulked up to 220 pounds to endure the bangs and bruises of 1990s NBA basketball. One would also expect Tatum to do the same as his wiry body matures.
At Arizona, Elliott exhibited the ability to score inside and outside, whether driving to the rim, using an economy of dribbles or operating out of the high post—an area where Tatum particularly shines. The incoming rookie has already mastered the vintage one-legged fadeaway Dirk Nowitzki has made his signature move.
Elliott was a 50.4-percent shooter from deep as a senior, when he averaged 22.3 points per game on his way to being named AP Player of the Year in 1989. However, he didn’t become a prolific three-point shooter until midway through his 11-year NBA career. His catch-and-shoot skills in concert with a quick release made him the perfect safety valve in an offense centered around David “The Admiral” Robinson. From 1990-96, he was San Antonio’s second-leading scorer four times.
In the 1995-96 season, Elliott’s finest as a pro, he knocked down 161 of 392 three-point attempts (41.1 percent) and had a career-high effective field-goal percentage of 53.7.
Tatum, who tallied an effective field-goal percentage of 50.7 at Duke, has already shown he can stroke it from deep off the catch:
Listen. I know.
There was a time in the early 2000s when one of the most heated arguments in every barbershop was: “Who’s better? Kobe Bryant or Tracy McGrady?” And no one would look at you like you were a complete and utter idiot for contending valiantly on the behalf of Auburndale, Florida’s finest.
McBrady isn’t Tatum’s ceiling. The two-time scoring champ and seven-time All-Star is in his stratosphere. In the words of Darius Lovehall, the character portrayed by actor Lorenz Tate in the forever-wack mid-’90s romantic comedy “Love Jones,” it’s “about the possibility of the thing.” (Keep your objections in your drafts. It’s terrible.)
Tatum may never attain the level of athleticism McGrady had. That’s something you just have to be born with. But with today’s high-level performance training, he will become more explosive as he naturally fills out. He has polish and panache. He breaks down defenders with his handle, almost always crossing over below his knees and finishing proficiently in the paint with both hands. Tatum’s ability to go end-to-end, navigate through traffic in fast-break situations and win 1-on-1 matchups by executing dribble combinations in half-court sets makes him a great fit in any system.
His 97.8 defensive rating suggests he could one day be a top-notch defender. For perspective, last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, Draymond Green, led all forwards in that category with a 99.3. Obviously, college apples aren’t NBA oranges, but you get the point. With his length (7’0″ wingspan) and quickness, Tatum could easily defend three, and possibly four, positions.
He’ll have to earn more opportunity, but becoming a superstar might not require a change of scenery. Though McGrady facilitated his leap to the top of the league with a transition from the Toronto Raptors to the Orlando Magic, Tatum could make the jump in Boston. If he continues to progress, even if the Celtics keep their new core intact, why wouldn’t general manager Danny Ainge want to hand a 23-year-old version of this rookie the keys to the kingdom?
His potential is limitless.
He may just be the first Jayson Tatum.
Follow Nick on Twitter @Birds_Word.