PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Maybe we’re scarred by Jahlil Okafor. But somewhere along the way this NBA Draft narrative in Philadelphia picked up major steam:
Don’t draft Jayson Tatum.
The arguments against Tatum are mostly qualitative.
Okafor 2.0 (my personal favorite)
An iso heavy mid-range player (not necessarily a bad thing for a freshman in college)
Not athletic (just because he’s not Josh Jackson doesn’t make him unathletic)
Went to Duke (the laziest of all)
Liberty Ballers’ Marc Whittington did an excellent job of combating those false narratives surrounding Tatum.
Here is why he’s the Sixers’ best option.
Let’s start with fit.
The 76ers own the third pick in the NBA Draft and they’re in a unique spot to draft for fit because of
Sam Hinkie Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and even Dario Saric to some extent.
Here’s Brett Brown on 94WIP in May:
“I think we’re now at a stage where we’re starting to feel comfortable about some of the pieces we have in place,” Brown said. “In general, to your question, we don’t feel at all as much of a prisoner — categorically saying, ‘We’re just gonna take the best player.’ There is an element now where we need some fit.”
Both Brown and general manager Bryan Colangelo have reiterated over and over again, that Ben Simmons will dominate the ball. The question remains whether he will guard the opposition’s point guard (I’d guess not), but we know he will control the offensive flow for the Sixers for, hopefully, the next 10-plus years.
At 6’10”, Simmons could certainly guard the power (stretch) forward position. Offensively, with a ball dominant, unselfish floor general in Simmons, the Sixers need to add shooting and scoring — especially on the wing.
Enter Tatum. At 6’8″, 205-pounds with a 7’0″ wingspan, Tatum would immediately become the team’s small forward.
I’m imagine a lineup of something like: Kyle Lowry, Robert Covington, Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid with Dario Saric coming off of the bench. That lineup can defend, make three’s, and get up and down the floor.
Tatum, who went 40-117 from beyond the arc in his lone college season, projects to be an above average shooter. As Whittington points out, 32.1-percent of Tatum’s shot attempts were three’s — a higher percentage than college players like Gordon Hayward, Paul Pierce, Kawhi Leonard, Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant.
Furthermore, Tatum shot 84.9-percent from the foul line, a better indicator of a player’s future shooting ability. That clip is the 5th highest for any freshman non-guard with more than 100 attempts since 1992-93, according to Sports-Reference.
And lastly, he looks comfortable. His release is a little bit high, but it’s smooth, controlled, and consistent.
“Offensively, he’s got the best skill set in the country. What he’s able to do, how he’s able to score in so many different ways, frankly it’s well ahead of anybody his age.”
3. Defensive Ability
Critics question Tatum’s ability to defend in the NBA, which is fair to an extent. But at 6’8″, with a 7’0″ wingspan, Tatum has the ideal body type of an NBA small forward. While he certainly is not a lockdown defender by any means, his length helped him average 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks per game at Duke. Despite missing the first six weeks of the season, Tatum was far from a liability on the defensive side of the ball and he will continue to grow athletically (Tatum is 19, Jackson is 20).
And with Simmons and Embiid protecting the paint, the 76ers can — and should — afford to think offense with this pick.
Judging a prospect’s character, work ethic, mindset, etc. is extremely difficult. But Tatum has it. He’s a smart player and person who has earned rave reviews. Tatum’s Players Tribune piece on his life and his mom gives you a glimpse into his personality.
5. The Others
- Josh Jackson is the best athlete in the draft and may have a higher ceiling than Tatum, but he doesn’t fill a need and has more bust potential. Jackson shot just 37.8-percent from three-point range on a mere 90 attempts, but more concerningly made only 98 of 173 free-throws (56.6-percent). His offensive game is awkward.
- De’Aaron Fox would fit the Sixers’ (defensive) point-guard need, but not their need for a shotmaker. Fox shot just 24.6-percent from three on 1.9 attempts per game and does not project to become an above-average NBA shooter.
- Malik Monk is arguably the best scorer in the draft, but that’s all he does. At 6’3″, Monk is an undersized two-guard with bust potential.
- Dennis Smith also fits. He’s a 6’2″ point guard who can shoot, but is a bit of a head case.
- Jonathan Isaac has a smooth stroke and is maybe the most intriguing of this group, but does Colangelo really have the courage to take another 6’11” player?
Assuming Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball go first and second to the Celtics and Lakers, respectively, Tatum makes the most sense for the Sixers at No. 3.