The era of isolation basketball that defined recent NBA history is, slowly but surely, fading away. When the league was dominated by the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant, a good team’s primary offense was getting out of the way, and having one player run an ISO. Times have obviously changed since then. With current NBA offenses prioritizing ball movement and perimeter shooting more so than one-man sets, the age of one-on-one play is simply outdated.
Typically, when the customs of the NBA change, the up-and-coming prospects adapt their play styles to match. This has been the case for some of the NBA Draft’s more recent top prospects. Ben Simmons, Karl Anthony-Towns, Lonzo Ball, and players that scream “versatility” tend to regarded more highly than the rest of the pack. However, in certain cases, exceptions can be made. An example of that is Duke’s Jayson Tatum, the newest master of isolation basketball.
Jayson Tatum has a prototypical build for an NBA small forward. With a 6’8″ frame at around 210 pounds, a 6’11” wingspan, mobility, and athleticism, Tatum checks all the boxes for physical attributes. His high release point and phenomenal footwork fill out his technical side. With all that, Tatum isn’t lacking very much.
While he doesn’t possess mindblowing explosiveness, Jayson Tatum doesn’t necessarily need any. Even with the large frame, all of Tatum’s movements are fluid, smooth, and in control. He takes really long strides on drives to the rim with no wasted movement. This goes a long way when there is a good defender on him. Tatum also possesses underrated strength as well which makes him incredibly difficult to body up as a defender. Overall, Tatum’s body will be his greatest attribute going forward.
Tatum averages 16.1 points and 7.4 rebounds on the season, primarily playing the four spot for Duke. While his overall field goal percentage of 43.5% isn’t marvelous, Tatum does shoot 34.3% from three, 87% from the free throw line, and has a true shooting percentage of 55.4%. Consistency has been there with double figure scoring in all but three games played this season. Of his 24 games played this season, Tatum has at least 18 points scored in 12 games, at least two three pointers made in 9 games, and at least 7 rebounds in 14 games. That is some solid production.
Per Draft Express’ breakdown video above, 21% of Jayson Tatum’s offense comes from isolation. On those isolations, he averages 1.047 points per possession and gets to the free throw line once every five isolation attempts. In post up situations, where Tatum truly excels, he averages 1.087 points per possessions which ranks him in the 94th percentile in all of college basketball.
Tatum is simply as polished of an isolation scorer as you will find in this draft. He has always excelled in the face up game and his fluidity is off the charts. He utilizes the jab step as well as any player in college basketball. An effective jab step keeps defenders guessing, and a lightning quick first step makes for a deadly combination.
While highly effective as a slasher, Jayson Tatum’s back to the basket game where he can do the most damage. He has the strength to back down any defender from the mid-post area. Once he’s there, Tatum has a variety of post moves that he can utilize to score. He can hit turnaround jump shots effectively, occasionally hit jump hooks in front of the rim, and has a spin move that is nearly impossible to guard when in control.
Jayson Tatum’s weaknesses aren’t anything related to his size or offensive capabilities, but rather are mostly mental in nature. Particularly when it comes to effort, or really anything other than scoring. Tatum has the physical tools to be a solid defender, but at this stage simply isn’t the most willing defender. While the intensity on the defensive end has certainly improved throughout his freshman season, there’s still a noticeable ways to go. Tatum certainly isn’t a liability on defense, but it’s the willingness to commit on defense that teams would like to see from him.
The other aspect of the game that Tatum seems to be unwilling to take part in is passing. Again, the ability to pass is something that Tatum possesses, and his fluency in moving the ball has gotten better this year, but at times, instead of making the correct pass to try and get a better look, his shot goes up even if it’s contested. Tatum has a tendency to force things and often tries to do it all by himself. This is evident in Duke’s loss to North Carolina State where in the game’s final possession, Tatum tries to force a dribble move through a defender that ultimately gets stripped by fellow draft star Dennis Smith Jr.. No matter how good of a scorer a player is, ball movement and open looks are the keys to any good offense.
Tatum had a fantastic stretch in the month of February where the Duke phenom really picked it up in all areas of his game. This was especially true in his jump shooting. After shooting 14/48 (29%) from three point land through 14 games in December and January, Tatum went 18/43 (52%) in 8 February games. Tatum also went a near perfect 25-26 (96%) from the free throw line in the same month.
Jayson Tatum’s best game of his college career came against arguably the nation’s best defense in a road game against the Virginia Cavaliers. In a 65-55 victory, Tatum scored a career best 28 points on 8/13 from the field and 6/7 from three. In the final five regular season games after that performance, Tatum hit 9/28 threes (32%).
NBA Comparison: Danny Granger
Jayson Tatum shares vast similarities to that of former NBA All Star and Most Improved Player award winner Danny Granger. Both are similar in size and stature, both excel in isolation offense, and both can shoot from the perimeter. Granger also knew how to efficiently body up down low which is highly similar to what Tatum is currently doing. Tatum has to put on more muscular definition to fully match Granger’s stature, but overall this is the closest comparison to what we will likely see Tatum evolve into once he is in the league.