With a small group of in the running for the No. 1 overall ranking in the ESPN 100, this month we’ll break down the top candidates, including our own evaluation, feedback from the college coaches who have been watching them during the evaluation period, and some thoughts from the prospects themselves.
Jayson Tatum is currently the No. 2 prospect in the ESPN 100, after holding the top spot for the better part of the last two years.
In high school, AAU and even with his Team USA experience, the style of Tatum's games was played in the open floor. That won’t be the case next season at Duke -- especially in ACC play -- but when the game slows down and you need a player who can get you a bucket against a set defense, Tatum is the guy in the class most equipped to do that.
The high school game is also one played almost exclusively off the dribble, and so Tatum typically has to create all of his offense for himself. The college level begins to incorporate much more screening away from the ball, an area where Tatum should really flourish. The two concerns I have for him at the next level are his durability and endurance -- college basketball is a much more physical game -- and the inconsistency of Tatum's 3-point shot, given that his game is based more on skill than explosiveness.
College coaches on Tatum's game
“He’s a finesse scorer. He can be a good defender but he’s more gifted offensively. It seems like he might have a little sense of entitlement at times and his knowledge of the game needs to keep developing.”
“He might not be the athlete that some of these other guys are but his game is going to go to a whole 'nother level once he starts playing off screens and plays with a point guard who can get him shots.”
Tatum on his outside shot
"I’m struggling with [3-point shooting] a little bit right now so that’s definitely something I need to work on, and I just need to keep getting stronger, quicker and faster.”
Tatum is a good, not great, athlete, but long-term his physical upside is tied much more to his length than his explosiveness. I expect he’ll become a consistent spot-up 3-point shooter, even at the NBA level, but the midrange area is what makes him special and so I think it’s possible he develops into a bigger, better ball-handling version of Richard Hamilton. I’m not sure he has quite the upside to be an alpha-dog primary scorer on a successful NBA team, but I think he could be a very good No. 2 guy. That’s a role that is foreign to him thus far in
his career, but one that his game could thrive in.
College coaches on how Tatum's body and game would fit the NBA
“He’s just so long. Three to five years from now once that frame fills out, he’s going to be a good pro because he can just score the ball so effortlessly.”
“He’s a midrange scorer so he takes a lot of those tough twos that everybody is so worried about these days, but he can get his shot and get it at the end of the shot clock. So as long as he develops into a better long-range shooter, it translates.”
Tatum on his NBA fit
“I may not be the best athlete but I make up for it with feel for the game and probably my versatility and skill set, a little bit like a player like Shaun Livingston.”
The race for No. 1 in the ESPN 100
Tatum’s situation is a little reminiscent of Jabari Parker’s, another player who took the top ranking because of an advanced offensive game at a young age but was eventually beaten out by players with more athletic upside like Andrew Wiggins. Tatum’s final ranking might be similar to Parker’s, but like Parker, I expect he’ll be one of the most impactful freshmen in college basketball in 2016-17, and a one-and-done pro should he so desire to be.
College coaches on Tatum's rank in the 2016 class
“[Harry] Giles is definitely one but I think you could go either way [Tatum or Josh Jackson] at No. 2.”
“It just depends on what you value. If we’re talking about who can help you most from day one, it’s probably Tatum. If it’s about five years from now, it may be Jackson.”
Tatum on the No. 1 rank
“I think every competitive player works hard to feel like they’re the best player, and I don’t think I’m any different.”