Everyone assumes the Celtics will take Markelle Fultz with the No. 1 pick in the draft . . . but what if they don't? What if they turn to another of the prospects? This week, we'll look at some of the players who might interest the Celtics in that 'What if?' scenario: TODAY: Duke's Jayson Tatum.
Nearly every mock draft has the Celtics selecting Washington guard Markelle Fultz with the No. 1 overall pick. And rightfully so. Fultz is the most complete player at this moment and still has room to improve greatly.
INSTEAD OF FULTZ, WHAT IF CELTICS DRAFT . . .
Still, if Danny Ainge decides to either trade back or in the words of the great Muhammad Ali, “shock the world” and not take Fultz, the guy he should target is Duke’s Jayson Tatum.
The 6-foot-8 Tatum is one of the few guys in this draft who can help the Celtics immediately. In his lone season at Duke, he averaged 16.8 points and 7.3 rebounds in 33 minutes per game. Impressive numbers for a freshman who just turned 19 in March. There are several reasons why Tatum should be the guy if Ainge goes elsewhere from Fultz.
Tatum has an NBA-ready body. At 6-8 and 204 pounds, Tatum resembles the NBA version of Greek God Adonis. He has a chiseled body and with a 6-11 wingspan he can come in and contribute right away. Plus, he’ll only get bigger and stronger, which should strike fear in opponents.
He’s also extremely versatile on the offense. He’s been compared to Danny Granger and Allan Houston. But a better comparison may be Paul Pierce. That’s right Celtics fans, Tatum has a lot of Pierce’s game in his repertoire. He’s a natural scorer who can beat you a number of ways on the offensive end. He’s deceptively shifty with the dribble and, just like Pierce, he has amazing footwork.
He also has a throwback mid-range game, reminiscent of Pierce. And he fills a need for the Celtics. He was one of the best 1-on-1 players in college, so when the Celtics need a bucket, Tatum will be able to get it. How many times have we said the Celtics need someone who can create his own shot? Well, Tatum is that guy.
One Eastern Conference scout tells CSNNE’s A. Sherrod Blakely, "Tatum has a tremendous feel for the game. He has that high basketball IQ thing going for him that Brad Stevens loves in a player. Good shooter, decent ball-handler...solid in a lot of areas but not great at any one thing.”
Another area where he’ll be able to help the Celtics is on the glass. Tatum was a very good rebounder at Duke, especially on the defensive end. His defensive rebounding rate was 19.7 percent. To put that in context, Draymond Green’s defensive rebound percentage was 20.4. So, Tatum is not that far behind one of the best All-Everything guys in the NBA.
But Tatum does have a few limitations.
He’s a good 3-point shooter but not necessarily great. He shot a respectable 34.2 percent in his lone season at Duke but that was from college range. The NBA 3-pointer is three feet farther out (23-9 vs. 20-9), so he’ll have to improve on his jump shot. With that being said, Paul Pierce only shot 33.5 percent in his final season at Kansas and he turned into a pretty good NBA 3-point shooter.
While I think he’s extremely versatile on offense, the same NBA scout doubts his versatility saying, “My biggest concern with him is his versatility. Like I said, he can do a lot of things pretty good. But he doesn't have the kind of size or length to play anywhere other than small forward. He doesn't have the length or strength to really be a small-ball power forward, and he doesn't shoot the ball well enough right now, to play off-guard.”
I, however, do feel he can play both forward spots, especially when an opposing team goes small.
At the end of the day, Tatum is an NBA-ready player who can step in and fill several needs for the Celtics. I feel he’ll be an All-Star caliber player who will consistently score 18-25 points a game in his NBA career. As the scout said, “Still, he's a good player and honestly, probably the safest pick when you're talking about the guys talked about as top-five, top-six picks."