There might not be a smoother, more efficient scorer from 18 feet and in than Duke-bound swingman Jayson Tatum. The talented wing made himself known last summer after dominating on Team USA as a 17-year-old at the U19 World Championship in Crete, Greece.
Tatum already has three gold medals after winning gold in Uruguay at the 2013 U16 Americas Championship, at the 2014 U17 World Championship in Dubai and during last summer’s World Championship in Greece. Twitter exploded after he threw down a monster dunk against Greece:
Jayson Tatum is such a skilled prospect but look at that bounce on the poster dunk vs Greece… https://t.co/KYDZlrf2hz
— Legend's Court (@legendscourt) July 4, 2015
This is just a small fraction of Tatum’s overall game; he has the physical and athletic attributes already to compete at the highest level, but it’s his offensive repertoire that sets him apart from others. In Greece, he was third on Team USA in both minutes and scoring per game at 13.9 a contest while adding 4.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.9 steals per game. At 6’8.25” and 205 pounds with a 6’11” wingspan, he has great size for an 18-year-old freshman paired with excellent leaping ability and lateral quickness.
But Tatum wasn’t always this good. It took him some time before he realized the talent he had in basketball. It wasn’t until the summer after eighth grade that he realized his potential in the sport. In the summer of 2012, Tatum participated at the Fab Frosh Camp in Atlanta as a no-name prospect, but it only took one day before everyone knew who he was (via ESPN):
“The first night session, no one knew who I was,” Tatum said. “Then I scored 22 straight points, and people were like ‘Who is this kid?’ I was really excited, geeked about scoring. The basket looked big.
“I had seen these guys on YouTube, they were one, two, three, four in my grade. And when I left the camp, I was ranked No. 2 in the camp.”
Tatum didn’t slow down from there. He averaged 26.1 points and 10.0 rebounds as a junior at Chaminade, and the following summer he was fifth in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League in scoring at 19.5 points per game. In his final season at Chaminade, he led the Red Devils to the Class 5 state championship while averaging 29.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and three assists per game:
There has been a lot of attention nationally for Tatum, but his parents have helped him remain humble.
“I think my parents never let me get a big head,” Tatum told David Scott of usatodayhss.com. “They never let me settle. It’s been good for me.”
Unlike most NBA-sized swingmen at 18 years old, Tatum has mastered the art of the in-between game and the mid-range. He has good touch around the basket and is a knockdown shooter from around 15-18 feet. He has excellent footwork to maneuver in tight spaces to create separation against defenders. He also has a great feel with the ball in his hands and is willing to make the extra pass to an open teammate.
Tatum’s solid length, quickness and speed project him as a potential two-way player. He should be able to play both wing positions, and possibly point guard in a pinch, at the highest level. He likens his game to Shaun Livingston.
But Tatum still needs to gain more consistency as a shooter in order to reach his offensive ceiling at the highest level. He showed improvement last summer while making four of 10 from deep in Greece, but still needs to show that improved efficiency in a bigger sample size. He will likely always be more comfortable from 18 feet and in.
Adding weight should be an additional focus as he works on preparing for the NBA level and guarding more physical and stronger wings. But that should come as he grows and his frame develops with time.
Overall, there’s a lot to like with Tatum as a prospect. His maturity, scoring ability and unselfishness make him quite an intriguing prospect for the next level. When you add his length, athleticism and intensity on the defensive end, it’s clear he has a high ceiling as a two-way swingman.
With a good freshman season at Duke, expect Tatum to be in the top-five pick conversation come next June.