2019 Top NBA Players 23 & Under: Part 2
- Aaron Gordon, Forward, Orlando Magic
AG was the youngest player to enter the 2014 NBA Draft, which feels WILD(!!) as he finishes up his undergraduate years for the purpose of this exercise. This should be a great revelation for understanding the value and the growth curve for players coming into the NBA. Gordon has incrementally improved upon aspects of his game with each season, and now sits on the precipice of All-Star consideration if we project additional improvement past his age 23 campaign.
The discourse around AG should begin with a statement of fact: Coming out of Arizona, the scouting report on him was a simple one: Dynamic athlete, with a limited skillset and a non-existent jumpshot. Consider the obstacles Gordon has had to overcome during his development: A lack of cohesive vision from the Orlando front office, playing for five coaches in five different seasons, and seemingly playing out of position for extended stretches of time. With that in mind, the growth he’s shown, especially on his jumper, is pretty impressive.
No seriously, when we think about players sprinting off and around flare screens guys like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, or the masked off-ball assassin Rip Hamilton come to mind. Yet while no one was paying attention to the Magic last season, AG unlocked another stratosphere in his shooting potential by showing the prowess to be a weapon shooting off movement actions. According to the B-Ball index player grade tools; Gordon tested out as an “A” grade shooter off movement, which also takes into consideration how well a player is able to get a quality shot without the ball.
As a 6’9 220 lb power forward, his fluidity as an athlete is a key attribute that enables him to beat opposing wing defenders to the teeth of the basket. We’ve still yet to see Gordon in a full out push the pace up tempo team offensive setting. The idea of surrounding AG with additional shooters and guards that can lower his own self creation burden means there’s still untapped potential in his future. Opposing defenses that attempt to counter his combination of speed and power by putting small forwards on him rapidly pay the cost as he can also play a bully ball style of offense on the boards while being a constant threat on lobs and putbacks with his insane catch radius. It’s a wicked sight to see out of a 6’9″ power forward who’s pushing 225 pounds with a 7’0″ wingspan.
AG is also fantastic without the ball, has a keen understanding of timing and angles, and comprehends how to keep the defense guessing during pick and roll actions. They never know whether he’s preparing to dive towards the basket or fade out towards the three point line.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Aaron Gordon is one of the most electrifying leapers we’ve had entered the league recently. His explosive capacity in the open floor or in half-court settings allows him to turn any play, or any pass, into his nightly Sportscenter top 10 play entry. After years of steady development, Aaron Gordon seems to be on the verge of entering his prime.
19. Mitchell Robinson, Center, New York Knickerbockers
Coming out of high school Mitchell Robinson was a highly recruited consensus top 10 recruit and a McDonald’s All-American selection. The Godson of former NBA player and eight year veteran Shammond Williams, he originally decided to sign his letter of intent to play college basketball at Western Kentucky, where Williams was an assistant coach. Following an abrupt resignation of his God Father from the program, Robinson would later end up forgoing his one year of collegiate responsibility to train for the NBA draft. A decision the Knicks front office and fan base are thrilled about now as the concerns around his lack of game film resulted in him falling to the 36th pick in the draft and perhaps the biggest draft value among all selected players.
Pterodactyl esque 7’”4 wingspan, which he uses like weapons of mass destruction, Mitchell Robinson has all the physical tools of a modern defensive center.
Big time upside as a play finisher, ridiculous catch radius. In a 2018 draft class featuring lottery picks Mo Bamba, Jaren Jackson, and Wendell Carter, solid defensive prospects as big men in their own right, Robinson still shines as the best rim protector in the class.
Uses his sense of timing to diagnose plays and rotate to the right spot to anchor the paint. Robinson averaged 2.4 blocks per game in his limited rookie sample of 20 minutes per game, this production compares comfortably on a per rate basis to other elite rim protectors in the same vein during their early career results such as Dikembe Mutombo, Rudy Gobert & Clint Capela.
His rookie season also ranks among the most impressive for any Knick draft pick during the past two plus decades with a litany of team milestones. Eviscerated the franchise record for most total blocks during a rookie season with 161 blocks in 1360 minutes held by Patrick Ewing (103 blocks in 1771 minutes) for twenty years before it was broke by Kristaps Porzingis(134 blocks in 2047 minutes).
Robinson’s quickness combined with his natural instincts on the defensive end already make him one of the most disruptive defensive players in the league, his 5.7 block percentage ranked in the 99th percentile among center’s. Opposing jump shooters consistently underestimate his length and quick twitch reaction time on the perimeter as he can still play the part of a defensive terrorist who makes you think twice about that going up if he’s anywhere in your vicinity.
Robinson, has some negative habitual patterns that are par for the course when discussing a 20 year old big man. His post game can still use additional refinement as his moves tend to be predictable and easy to sit on.
Although, he put up a decent rebounding numbers, most of them come from his ridiculous athleticism due to the fact he can jump, show off his ridiculous vertical leaping ability and high point the ball before anyone else can attempt to get to it. I would probably be bored with the nuisances of boxing out if I could jump like him as well, so let’s just file that under “should come with additional repetitions” category.
The most frustrating trait of Robinson’s has to be the frequency of which he commits defensive fouls at, he can get jumpy in tight spaces and will try to block every shot attempts which leads to giving up stellar positioning to opposing players and consistently finding himself in foul trouble. If there’s anything that can get in the way of witnessing a full breakout for Mitch it’ll probably be the mental aspect of the game needing to catch up to his otherworldly physical gifts. He’s currently being drafted inside the top 40 as a top 10 center according to FantasyPros average draft position, which is a hefty price to pay given his limited track record and the Knickerbockers crowded front court, but we’re talking about a talent here who single-handedly can win you the blocks category on a weekly basis and a possibly future defensive player of the year candidate depending on if he can work out the kinks in his game.
- Shai Gilgeous Alexander, Point Guard, Oklahoma City Thunder
Regardless of draft cycle any NBA team choosing in the mid to late lottery would sign up in a heartbeat to find a gem with an extremely high floor towards contributing towards winning basketball right away and throughout the duration of their rookie scale contract. In a draft class that has passed all reasonable expectations we could’ve possibly had beforehand, no other rookie has been a more instrumental part of a playoff rotation than SGA.
The number one thing that stands out about Shai as a prospect is his incredible body control and ambiguity while driving to the cup, you’ll often find players in the league who play smaller than their listed height and wingspan on the court, but he’s not one of them, almost using his 7 foot wingspan as a weapon on his drives to slither around defenders in close proximity while still creating enough space to get enough extension on difficult layups. His numbers may never jump off the page, since his upside is going to revolve around high level efficiency and his value on defense, in addition to the fact he still has to unlock more dynamism as a pull up shooter to capitalize on his slashing abilities. Per NBA.com only 3% of his field goals were pull up jumpshot’s and he only connected at a 32% clip.
Defensively, the aforementioned 7 foot wingspan combined with his lateral agility on defense put him in the conversation to make All NBA Defensive teams in the future as his frame fills out. A quick observation about the defense of young ball handlers is that they tend to struggle even more defending in off ball actions as opposed to when they have to play defense man up. It takes a high level of repetition and defensive IQ to read the play as it develops in front of you, and still be able to trail your main and fight through screens. At the NBA level, even the smallest error in judgement can lead to an open backside cut or open three pointer. During the Clippers hard fought series against the Warriors, SGA showed he’s far beyond his age when it comes to defending at a high level.
Nonetheless, SGA holds a stable low usage superstar projection going forward due to his ability to play on and off the ball, while adding residual value on defense due to his elite frame for the guard position, and from a team construction standpoint being a blank canvas that should easily fit alongside another ball dominant guard or playing off a bigger wing initiator. The value of the Clippers selection of Shai Gilgeous Alexander with the 11th pick in the 2018 Draft has to be looked at as a part of the reason why they were able to secure the services of Kawhi Leonard down the road thanks to their attractive asset base, and not to mention the role he played on a playoff team.
SGA only attempted 1.7 three pointers per game last season which isn’t a large sample although he connected on 37%, so from a fantasy perspective where the shot goes from here will play a huge part of how alluring the offensive package will be. The upside on his playmaking ability may be capped as long as CP3 is calling OKC home, but Shai’s portability and defensive versatility make him one of the easiest guard prospects in recent memory to build around due to how malleable his skillset is. Shai Gilgeous Alexander remains a favorite of mine and a solid dynasty building block in all formats.
- John Collins, Forward/Center, Atlanta Hawks
Following a criminally underrated freshman season at Wake Forest playing in the ACC where he stealthily joined an elite fraternity with Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant as the only freshman over the past 25 years to average to 19 points, 9 rebounds and 1.5blocks, Collins has done nothing but improve since he’s received his residency on Peachtree.
Reminds me a ton stylistically of a more offensively gifted Kenyon Martin, through sheer pogo stick-esque quick twitch bounciness in the paint, activity on the offensive boards, ferocious put backs, and lobs of impressive degree of difficulty.
Collins possesses reasons of optimism regarding his outside jumpshot, currently sitting at 34% from 3 so far during his two seasons thus far on 203 total attempts from long range, which we could categorize as a good sign considering his youth. According to CleaningTheGlass.com, the 6”10 Forward shot in the 93rd percentile among NBA bigs last season. The jumpshot has already come such a long way, adding the threat of a consistent and projectable three pointer provides him with another avenue towards providing surplus value.
Collins’ chemistry with Trae Young has helped him become one of the best finishers in the entire NBA, finishing 10th in the league in total dunks, ranking in the 76th percentile finishing in the paint compared to fellow big men. The second half of the season has shown the Young/Collins pick and roll has the potential to be one of the most entertaining pairings going forward on the offensive side of the court.
Collins defensive acumen showed marginal improvements based on his rookie exploits to where he was towards the end of his second season, although he still has a way to go before being considered a plus defender since his effort defensively waxes and wanes from a possession to possession basis. Still has some bad habits on defense that he needs to fix such as: staying too upright in his defensive stance when guarding in the pick & roll or getting too “jumpy” at the point of attack and falling for pump fakes.
The Demon Deacon export doesn’t possess the rim protection skills to anchor an above average league defense from the center which will be a long term decision for Hawks GM Travis Schlenke to figure out what kind of big man would hypothetically fit besides him in a front court long term.
Collins improved his scoring averages from 10.5 during his rookie year to 19.5 during his sophomore run, he possesses a fantasy friendly game for a forward due to the added legitimacy of his jumper and based on his early returns seems to be a safe bet to provide fantasy owners with numbers close to 20-10 with solid percentages all around for the foreseeable future.
- Myles Turner, Center, Indiana Pacers
When Victor Oladipo suffered a gruesome calf injury on January 24th, effectively ending his follow up campaign to his Most Improved Player selection, the Pacers were in the middle of a strong stretch of play where they were at the time being the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference. Questions about how far the team would drop following the injury persisted but due in large part to the ascendance of Myles Turner from a good defensive player to a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year played a major part in keeping the team afloat.
With each additional season, as the game is played more on the perimeter, the agility of your big men becomes a crucial aspect of slowing down dynamic offensive players who can get to the basket at will and break your defense down completely with dribble drive penetration. Turner has begun to constructively leverage his brute combination of his killer 7”4 wingspan, fluidity as an athlete on the defensive side of the court, as well as his defensive recognition on a nightly basis during the second half of the season. According to CleaningTheGlass, Turner’s 4.9% block percentage ranked inside the 97th percentile among fellow big men, which is given additional credence by the fact that he led the league in blocks per game.
While some laid the regression criticism of Turner during his third year as a pro, it appears to be uncalled for as his per 36 numbers essentially stayed flat from the earlier year. Myles finished on ESPN’s 9 category player rater as the 55th ranked player for fantasy basketball overall in 2017–2018 and the 20th overall player in 2018-2019. This speaks critically to the safety of Myles Turner’s package as a fantasy asset, over the past three seasons Turner has nearly shot 37% on his 468 three point attempts; On top of that his 2.7 blocks per game led the entire NBA and an even more absurd per 36 rate of 3.4 and it becomes abundantly clear the only reason his own Unicorn-esque attributes aren’t a bigger story is because of the market he resides in.
The 11th pick in the 2015 draft averaged 13.3 points per game last season, which was a tick below his career high (14.5ppg) set during year two. Less can be more when it comes to Centers if you don’t have the most polished offensive arsenal, the Longhorn product seemingly lacking potential to raise his scoring totals closer to 20-points per game shouldn’t deter the totality of the package here if he can maintain his efficiency in the paint and with his long-ball. Myles has the tendency to float on the perimeter which is one of the biggest flaws of the finesse big men of this era. 45% of his shot attempts were classified as mid range attempts, you would prefer to see these traded out for a few more high percentage looks around the basket in a optimal scenario.
The chemistry between Myles Turner & his fellow front-court mate Donatas Sabonis is quietly one of the biggest questions teams jostling for playoff position in the Eastern Conference, whether the Pacers decide this is the pairing to go into the future with, or dangle one of them as collateral for a trade is to be determined.
- Jamal Murray, Guard, Denver Nuggets
The evolving nature of team building in the NBA recently has allowed guards once pigeonholed into strictly being pure combo guards more flexibility in finding a suitable niche within team dynamics.
While his instincts as a lead initiator aren’t to ever be confused with the likes of John Stockton or Steve Nash (career high 4.8 assists in 2019) Denver felt comfortable enough this summer to invest a max level 5 year 170 million dollar extension to the 22 year old Canadian export following their run to the Western Conference semifinals. Jamal has shown improvement as a lead ball handler at times, particularly as a ball-handler, where he’s improved his live dribble to the point where it can keep defenders on their heels as they anticipate his next move.
In the half-court, his two man synergy with Nikola Jokic has led to him playing to his most dangerous strengths coming into the league which were: rising up for catch and shoot opportunities, off movement shooting, his great sense of anticipation and timing on his cuts and pivots to the basket.
Blessed with a long range shooting stroke sweeter than a plate of yams with extra syrup, Murray has proven to be a proficient sharpshooter from long range. Through his three seasons in the league Maple Curry has shot a cumulative 36% on 1194 attempts, combined with his shooting sample and consistently solid free throw percentages at Kentucky and on the AAU/Grassroots circuit it gives us a baseline for a safe dynasty asset to build around.
The 7th pick in the 2016 draft is a competent passer in his own right who can make all of the rudimentary reads you’d like to see from your point guard. Only 30% of his possessions last season were as the pick and roll ball handler, which might seem high but only ranked 75th in the league in frequency, per CleaningTheGlass is assist percentage ranked in the 58th percentile of ball handlers, which is a tick above league average, but playing besides Nikola Jokic has allowed him to find his comfort level between facilitating for others and putting the ball in the basket.
The Canadian guard isn’t to be confused with some of the majestic leapers in the league currently, he does sneakily possess stellar body control when attacking the basket that allows him to explode off catch unsuspecting rim protectors a step slow and finish through contact. Finishing in the 54th percentile among guards in the painted area, Murray lacks a hyper elite first step that can lead to difficult and low percentage attempts against defenders.
Murray’s lack of high level agility sliding left to right is what holds him back on defense. His instincts and anticipation aren’t the worst and he isn’t a loaf to the point where we have to question his effort but to this point he’s proven not quick enough to handle the jitterbug point guards nor strong enough to consistently guard bigger wings.
As he enters his fourth season in the NBA, Jamal Murray has proven to be an electric scorer who can fill up the stat sheet in the blink of an eye, his combination threes and assists make him a candidate to become a top 50 player in all formats without much improvement necessary across the board.
- Brandon Ingram, Forward, New Orleans Pelicans
When King James signed on to bring his talents to Hollywood last summer, he also brought the media circus frenzy that follows him, additional eyes and pressure on the development arc of slender man with the 7″3 wingspan. Ingram responded with the best stretch of basketball in his career following the all star break that unfortunately came to a halt in March when he was diagnosed with a potentially career ending blood clot. BI has since underwent surgery on his right shoulder, and is currently expected to make a return for next season.
One Ingram related observation since his freshman season at Duke, that still places him in high faith, is he usually tends to come out on the other his side poor stretches of play as a noticeably better player on the other side. Historically a late bloomer, Ingram has shown an overall improved level of production each season as the year season progresses, showing positive progression as he learns to turn his elite raw tools into sustained production.
After he missed 7 games in December following a nagging ankle injury, Ingram put up rest of season numbers that mirrored 20ppg-6rebounds-4assists on 51% from the field and 33% from deep in the 32 games before his season ended.
Prospect growth not being linear, almost seems like a cliche among draft philosophy, but the validity always holds firm, and there’s a fine line on the path between growth and stagnation (see: recently graduated Wiggins, Andrew).
Per the Bball index individual skill grades, his report card affirms his potential as a wing who can live in the painted area and finish consistently at a high clip. Grading out as a A- in isolation situations, and in the 69th percentile overall in finishing, he already holds a strong base that should only improve as he adds additional mass to his frame.
At times, it seems like Ingram is still growing accustomed to the newfound wizardry of his 7″3 wingspan and what it allows him to accomplish on the court, combines his ability to take freakishly long strides towards the basket with a solid handle for someone his size which gives him a shifty change of pace maneuverability. According to CleaningTheGlass, Ingram ranked in the 97th percentile among wings as he drew shooting fouls on 16.5% of his field goal attempts, although his career high in free throw rate were muddied by only completing them at a 67% clip.
The translation of the Kinston, North Carolina product’s outside shot has yielded disheartening returns to this point after he shot 41% from three during his one & done season at Duke. BI suffers from mechanical inconsistencies with his lower half and as he can struggle to keep his base balanced when hampered with tight closeouts which can lead to some clankers. A career 33% three point shooter through 386 attempts, it’s imperative for Ingram to improve his stroke from NBA range to come close to reaching the lofty expectations of him after he entered the league. The advanced statistics haven’t been a fan of Ingram during any point during his NBA career, and while that’s not the greatest sign, i still hold Ingram’s as having untapped potential as a shooter.
Speaking of the aforementioned lofty expectations, can we please stop doing this thing where we compare 19 year old’s to future Hall of Famers? Even, Kevin Durant was implicitly guilty in driving the boat towards improbable benchmarks and unrealistic expectations when he said a 19 year old Ingram was further along than he was at the same age. Whether it’s calling Ben Simmons the next Lebron James, or Lonzo Ball the second coming of Jason Kidd, basing your NBA expectations simply off ultimate ceiling outcomes, are simply lazy juxtapositions that don’t achieve much towards learning about the idiosyncrasies that actually lead to a sustainable career.
13. Deandre Ayton, Center, Phoenix Suns
The Suns made Deandre Ayton the first pick in the 2018 NBA draft, and while there was some debate about whether he was the right pick, he definitely showed he has the potential to live up to the billing.
Being so young, you’d think it might have taken Ayton some time to develop but he asserted himself on the glass right away as a rookie. He finished the season averaging 10.3 rebounds per game, which was 13th best in the league. He even outrebounded vets like Enes Kanter, Steven Adams and LaMarcus Aldridge which is no easy feat. When you look at just offensive rebounding Ayton was even more impressive, narrowly missing out on a top-10 season with 3.1 offensive rebounds per game. All this goes to show he’s not getting pushed around by anyone down low and he’s only going to get better.
Yes Ayton can clean the glass with the best of them but his potential on the offensive end is what made him the first pick in the draft. And he didn’t disappoint in his rookie season, putting up a very respectable 16.3 points per game. As you’d expect, Ayton did his damage near the rim and boasted an elite 58.5 field goal percentage (which was better than Giannis’ BTW) good for 10th-best in the league. Ayton also isn’t afflicted by one of the more common big man problems: poor free throw shooting. He knocked his free throws down at nearly 75% which you will DEFINITELY take when you consider the FT percentages of other big men like DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond. Having a big man who doesn’t kill you FT% is a huge advantage in fantasy basketball.
While I’ve given Ayton a glowing review so far, his rookie season wasn’t without flaws. Yes he hit 3/4 of his free throws but only shot … 2.9 a game? For someone who’s supposed to be one of the pillars of the offense you’d like to see him get that number up. That’s a bit of a nitpick but his biggest flaw for fantasy (and in real life) is on the defensive end. Ayton posses rare size and athleticism but that didn’t really translate on the defense end. He finished the season average 0.9 blocks per game which isn’t terrible, it’s just not great. Ayton shouldn’t trail guys like Maxi Kleber or Richaun Holmes on the BPG leaderboard. He also chipped in a respectable 0.9 steals per game but, again, he’s got the physical tools to do more so hopefully we see an uptick in year 2.
I get it, Luka Doncic is amazing and dominated the headlines this season but Deandre Ayton is no slouch. He immediately cemented himself as an elite rebounder and put up a very good rookie season on the offensive end. And he’s only 20 years old! He’s got a great foundation to build on and if he takes the much talked about “year 2 jump” he will cement himself as one of the best big men in the game. And if that happens, there’s not going to be many guys you’d rather have on your roster. – Travis Pastore (Follow him here at @TheRealTRAVIOLI)
12. Trae Young, Point Guard, Atlanta Hawks
Vantage point means so much whenever attempting to contextualize the development of the young stars in the league. To no fault of his own, the draft day trade involving super Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, will forever be attached to the public’s perspective.
Trae was perhaps the trickiest evaluation to pin down during the 2018 NBA draft process due to a litany of reasons, most glaring obviously his limitations on the defensive end which will probably hinder him for as long as he’s a professional. Squint hard enough, and you still can visualize all the skills and indicators necessary to be one of the next great offensive maestro’s of fantasy basketball.
Equipped with an audacious shooting trigger, a tight dribble and a myriad of ‘wiggle’ moves to which infused with his heavily under-emphasized quickness and ability to dash to the basket still makes him one of the dreamiest point guard prospects in theory. Oddly enough, his shooting ability was the number one selling point for Trae during the pre draft evaluation process, and during his rookie year shooting sample thus far it’s the part of the package lagging behind the rest of his game.
Young finished the season shooting 32% from three, sank by his 16 games in November where he shot 17/86 from deep good for a ghastly 19%, although his shot trended in a positive direction after the start of 2019. It’s safe to say in general we can throw the projection of much of his upside away if he doesn’t become an elite level shooter closer to his peak years, he’s also shown a propensity to be a streaky shooter going back to his high school shooting samples and including his one & done season at Oklahoma.
The label of “generational-esque passing ability” has been whored around the past couple years with draft analysts throwing the term out each year seemingly for a different lead ball handling prospect, everything considered the raw assist totals Trae Young has amassed this season is definitely a positive aspect for his future outlook, sitting in the top 10 in both total assists and assist rate, it backs up the eye test that shows rare innate basketball instincts with the ball in his hand, with the ability to whip missile skip passes for corner three pointers with ambiguity, and drop sneaky dime drop passes in traffic.
Almost a mere lock to make the big men he’ll play with in his career a lot of money due to his ability to execute every read on the floor, played a huge role if you followed the Hawks over the season in Dewayne Dedmon & Alex Len turning in some of the best offensive basketball of their NBA careers.
When the ball is in his hand, Young has a rare magnetism on the flow of the offense that’s hard to quantify. Great passers are able to bring a certain child like joy to the exuberance to the floor both from a spectator’s perspective and to the players that share the court with them. Big men stay active on the boards, set better screens and run harder in transition when they’re playing with a maestro like Trae. The confidence level of complementary shooters are also enhanced knowing they could be hit i n stride for a rhythm jumpshot at any moment.
The arrow is obviously looking up for the young point guard from Lubbock, Texas, the Hawks seem committed to doing everything possible to build around Young strengths while insulating the fact that he may never even be a competent NBA defender, take into account the fact that since Young has the green light to pull up from anywhere on the court at his slightest impulse and the nature his nature to hot and cold streaks that may lead to some bouts with inefficiency , but nonetheless many of the signs of an elite shot creator are staring us in the face already.
11. Jayson Tatum, Forward, Boston Celtics
Larry Hughes’ nephew from St. Louis, quietly is one of the most accomplished high school players during the recent influxes of talent to enter the NBA since the one and done rule was implemented. The book on Tatum happens to be much more extensive than normally is the case for draft entrants and young players based on his prospect pedigree.
Before he played a single minute in the league, Tatum had already won 3 Gold Medals playing for Team USA’s u19 division (2013 FIBA Americas , 2014 FIBA World Championships, 2015 FIBA World Championships), combine that with AAU games and his film from his freshman year at Duke, essentially Tatum was as close to a known commodity on the grassroots circuit that you could find.
On some corners of NBA Twitter & the internet, Tatum’s sophomore campaign was seen as a massive letdown and cause for trepidation about his future outlook. I wouldn’t go that far as last season as a whole for Boston can be filed as a throw away.
Tatum has a prototypical body for an NBA wing. He is 6′ 8″ with a long, 6′ 11″ wingspan, wide shoulders, long arms and legs, and moves like a guard. He’s more of a finesse athlete than the frightening freight train in the open court type, but considering the craft in his offensive repertoire of eurosteps and extension scoop finishes he’s still a dangerous threat in the open floor.
I say all of that to say this: Many of the issues that plagued Tatum last year weren’t the first time that they’ve been issues for him during his young career. His love affair with mid range jump shots can hijack his floor game, struggles to create constant separation from defenders due to falling just short of an elite first step which can lead to low percentage attempts. Has the tendency to settle for his two dribble pull up at first instinct if he can’t get all the way past his man. Tatum’s footwork is at a high level and does have a strong jab step that gives him a chance to get to always growing bag of jump shots of all variety.
The 6”8 forward is at his best when he’s attacking closeouts aggressively and making decisive moves immediately upon getting his hands on the ball instead of falling in love with his face up or post game.
Redistributing his shot profile should go a long way towards Tatum taking his next leap. According to CleaningTheGlass, he ranked in the 95th percentile among wings at shots defined as “long mid range” attempts. His midrange package is a crucial element of what makes him one of the most well rounded scoring forwards amongst his peers, however for someone who shot in the 70th percentile as a three point shooter switching out a couple of contested mid range jumpers for threes would be in everybody’s best interest. The Duke export has shot 40% from three over his two years in the league on 553 attempts giving him a strong shooting base to work with if he can keep up the efficiency on a higher volume per game attempted three pointers.
In order for Tatum to be a one man offensive engine or unlock the next level within his game, it means he’ll need to improve several grades as a playmaker, he possesses the height to be a solid passer with the ability to see over the defense while he has the ball. His role within Brad Stevens offense hasn’t asked him yet to constantly make reads out of the pick and roll, but that should change with a larger role in the offense after the departures of Al Horford & Kyrie Irving opening up more offensive responsibility. Has shown the aptness to making solid reads out of the pick and roll when fully engaged and as his ability to orchestrate offense for his teammates is one of the most important questions for the upcoming Celtics season.
*All Videos courtesy of: Evin Gualberto, NBA.com, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves, Bleacher Report, Da Infamous NY, Free DawkinsMTA
All statistics courtesy: of Basketball Reference, Cleaning The Glass, B-Ball Index, NBA.com, NBAshotcharts.com, Draft Express**
All Ages for the purpose of this exercise are as of 1/1/19***
2019 rookies were not in consideration for this list****
Recently graduated OR Excluded due to age: Pascal Siakam, Buddy Hield, Julius Randle, Caris LeVert, Montrezl Harrell, Malcolm Brogdon, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Derrick White, Jusef Nurkic, Gary Harris, Andrew Wiggins, Kris Dunn