Phoenix Suns Draft Watch: Jayson Tatum

Feb 28, 2017; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Jayson Tatum (0) reacts after a teammate scored in the second half against the Florida State Seminoles at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 28, 2017; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Jayson Tatum (0) reacts after a teammate scored in the second half against the Florida State Seminoles at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports /

The draft watch continues this week with one of the fastest rising players in this draft: Jayson Tatum.

Player Comparison

The freshman standout small forward from Duke, the school that America loves to hate, is compared by to former Dukie Shane Battier as well as a man who made a brief guest appearance in the Valley of the Suns, Danny Granger. Tatum is a Swiss Army Knife of a player averaging 16 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block per game. Although he’s a much more prolific scorer than either Battier or Granger were. Battier posted 7 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assists, 1 steal, and one block as a freshman while Granger put up 11 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 2 blocks at Bradley.

Tatum is more slender than either of his comparisons. All three stand at 6’8″ with Granger the heaviest freshman at 225 lbs, Battier at 220 lbs, and Tatum at a light 205 lbs. Like both Battier and Granger, Tatum is athletic and hustles, but will only ever see a dunk contest from the stands.

Tatum has shot the ball reasonably well from 2-point range with a solid 50.9% while averaging a less-than exciting 33.6% from deep. He is however an extremely good free throw shooter at 87%.  His three-point percentage is not as high from the college line as a pro scout would prefer and he is a streaky outside shooter as well which has been a knock on his game. However by comparison, his outside shooting is still far better than the 18% Granger hit or 17% for Battier. But since both ended up with career averages of 38% in the NBA it is reasonable to assume Tatum will improve over time with the potential to reach Alan Houston levels (40%).

Why the Suns Would Want Him

The most logical reason for the Suns to take Tatum is if they have traded T.J. Warren. Tatum is all but a lock to be a really good player in the NBA with the potential to be a great one and would probably quickly overtake Warren in the depth chart. The other logical possibility is that the Suns catch fire at the end of the season and play their way into a pick at the 7-11 range. In that scenario, Tatum is likely to be off the board, but if he was available would undoubtedly be the best player.

If the Suns do end up with Tatum, they drafted a great player. He is a solid leader with a nasty competitive streak that suits the young Suns. He is a master of the mid-range game, a savvy defender, capable ball handler, and has excellent foot work. He’s not as athletic as a young Shawn Marion, but there are some similarities to the way he defends and his offensive versatility. If he had Marion’s explosiveness, he would likely be in the discussion for picks 2-4. He would be a nice compliment to Chriss and Booker on both ends of the court.

The Suns draft last year showed that they are not afraid to have two highly talented players at the same position. If they added Tatum to the roster they would have their forward spots set for the next decade through trading time between Bender, Chriss, and Tatum. All three would be extremely versatile and have tremendous potential on both ends of the court. There is something to be said for having an area of strength and adding Tatum would clearly give the Suns a dominant young core of flexible forwards.

Why the Suns Would Not Want Him

Tatum doesn’t make a lot of sense as a high upside SF selection for the Suns because they already have that potential in T.J. As Warren finally gets back into his previous condition he is averaging 15 points, 9 boards, 2 assist, and a block per game in March. Tatum may have potential to be a better all-around player, but it’s hard to make the argument that he’s going to be so much better than Warren that he is worth selecting in the top-five as opposed to filling more pressing needs at point guard and center.

Tatum’s game also has some of the same weaknesses that are also seen in Warren. Tatum struggles to stretch his shooting ability all the way to the three-point line. While he excels in creating his own shot, he can try to pound the air out of the ball while open teammates longingly look on in the vein in hope of a pass. Even though he is more competitive than Warren, he struggles with the same inability to find that killer instinct to take over a game in the way that elite offensive players like Booker do. He’s always aggressive, but that lack of a solid three-point shot in particular limits his ability to dominate on the offensive end.

On the defensive side, Tatum is a good defender, but needs to add some weight to prevent larger players from pushing him around. He already has an NBA-ready body, but he’s not prepared for human trucks like LeBron or Kawhi.


It is hard not to love Jayson Tatum. He has the kind of attitude that any coach would want on their young team. When paired with Chriss and Bender, he could help the Suns become a lockdown defensive unit. Like T.J. Warren, the biggest concern is his ability to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting. For the Suns, the biggest question is whether or not they could, or should, add him to a team that already has struggled to give Warren enough playing time to develop.

Next: Draft Watch: Should the Suns Draft Jonathan Issac?

And yet, if the Suns could find a way to package some combination of Warren, Chandler, Bledsoe, Knight, Barbosa, Dudley, and/or future picks in exchange for a second top-10 pick this year, Tatum would be awfully nice to have in a core with Booker, Chriss, Bender, and whoever else the Suns’ selection nets this year.