The 2016-2017 Duke Blue Devils were an adventure. There was Grayson Allen’s wild heel turn, Luke Kennard’s impressive ascent, Harry Giles’ inability to recapture his high school promise, and a relatively early loss in the NCAA Tournament. However, Jayson Tatum emerged from the weirdness to have a very impressive one-and-done campaign in Durham. He also happens to be a consensus top-five pick in the 2017 NBA Draft as a result.
As you will see below, Tatum is ranked slightly lower on my board than most, but that is more of an endorsement of other players than a pure knock on his game. Tatum is perhaps the most projectable player in this class aside from Markelle Fultz (who is the clear No. 1 pick), as he enters the league with a highly polished game that looks to translate into a 20-point scorer with haste. His footwork shows maturity beyond his years, his mid-range game is already “there,” and Tatum brings enough size and strength to the table to see where his defense could get to with some seasoning.
On the flip side, there are flaws with Tatum, as he profiles as a player that could potentially serve as a relic of the past more than a pillar of the future in terms of playing style. Comparisons to Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan have been floated due to his status as a pure scorer while adding little else (at the moment), and his three-point shooting stroke is a question mark. It should be noted, though, that many believe Tatum can add and develop range and he has flashed impressive passing vision when and if he is willing to utilize it.
Team needs (and individual workouts) will likely drive the draft order at the very top of the draft but if Jayson Tatum fell outside of the top five, it would be a significant surprise. An NBA team will pick up an accomplished scorer that looks to be relatively close to contributing immediately and, if the worst thing that scouts can say about you is that you might “only” be a big-time scorer, there are worse things.
Where does Tatum rank among the best of the best in this class? Let’s check out our post-combine NBA Draft rankings.
1) Markelle Fultz (Freshman, PG, Washington)
The combine didn’t tell us anything about Fultz since, well, he didn’t participate. Still, we already knew that Fultz was the consensus No. 1 player in the class and nothing has changed in that regard. It will be a lot of fun when the general public gets its first extended glimpse at what could be a dynamic NBA point guard.
2) Josh Jackson (Freshman, SF, Kansas) – Jackson’s wingspan (believed to be 6’10) has been picked apart in recent days, but I’m a sucker for his 3-and-D potential. His passing ability and profile as a slasher are encouraging offensively, and while he needs to improve his three-point stroke, you can see projection there. Defensively, Jackson has dominant upside as a shut-down wing with the right tutelage and development and he strikes me as exceedingly safe at a position of great need in the league.
3) Lonzo Ball (Freshman, PG/SG, UCLA) – Ball is, quite easily, the most famous prospect in this class, even if his father produced that level of fame under interesting circumstances. Taking that out of the mix, Ball is a world-class passer that has great size for the point guard position and, when he can get it off, he’s also a very good shooter. There are real questions about his defense, shot release and positional projection in the NBA, though, and there really is no debate between Ball and Fultz.
4) Jonathan Isaac (Freshman, PF, Florida State) – Placing Isaac ahead of Tatum is a bold call but one I’m comfortable with right now. Isaac’s defensive upside is game-changing and, with a more conducive system to his skills than what existed in Tallahassee, his offense might be tantalizing as well. This will look silly if Isaac doesn’t get stronger and develop offensively, but I’m alright with that.
5) Jayson Tatum (Freshman, SF, Duke) – Tatum is safe and he is very good. You know what you’re getting. On the flip side, I think you know what you’re getting. Such is life in the NBA Draft.
6) Dennis Smith (Freshman, PG, NC State) – We haven’t seen Dennis Smith play basketball in a long time and that is the issue when your team is bounced before the NCAA Tournament. I’m a big fan of his game and his upside as an absolutely explosive athlete that can score and distribute. There are injury and motor questions, though, and it seems as if Smith has morphed into a divisive prospect. His path over the next few weeks will be interesting.
7) De’Aaron Fox (Freshman, PG, Kentucky)
I don’t care that Fox weighed in at 170 pounds at the combine, but it certainly could hurt his stock. In actuality, it is kind of crazy how much force Fox is able to play with given his slight frame but he will absolutely bulk up at the next level, and his jump shot showed signs of life in the second half of his freshman season. Even if things go “wrong” for Fox, he’ll be a defensive-minded backup point guard with a big-time motor and that could be worse.
8) Lauri Markkanen (Freshman, PF/C, Arizona) – Markkanen’s downside is terrifying and that has to be acknowledged. He isn’t terribly long or athletic and his defense was, well, less than inspiring at the college level. In the same breath, every team wants shooting all over the floor in today’s NBA and Markkanen might be the best shooting center in the NBA within a year or two. He’s that good in that particular area and it can cover up a lot of flaws. Markkanen won’t be a star but a high-end role player isn’t the worst thing with the No. 8 pick.
9) Malik Monk (Freshman, SG, Kentucky) – Monk fans will hate this projection and that has been a theme throughout the process in this space. For me, Monk projects to be an intriguing third guard on a good team or a low-end starting shooting guard on a bad one. He’s absolutely going to get buckets at the NBA level but there isn’t much else to hang your hat on and, unless he is paired with a point guard that can defend wings, it is also tough to plug Monk in on the defensive end.
10) Frank Ntilikina (18-year-old, PG/SG, France) – Can he shoot at a high level? Is he actually a big-time athlete? These are questions that have to be answered with Ntilikina and they are reasons that I can’t have him ahead of any of the other point guard prospects at the top of the draft. In a “normal” class, though, he might be a top-five pick and one of the best players at the position.
11) Terrance Ferguson (18-year-old, SG/SF, Australia) – Ferguson’s wingspan (6’9) didn’t impress at the combine but he posted a 38-inch vertical and did enough in the testing portion. I’ve long been higher on Ferguson than most, simply because he perfectly fits the 3-and-D archetype and I don’t place a ton of credence in a (very) limited sample in Australia this year with regard to his shooting. If he’s as good of a shooter as he projected to be in high school, this is low for Ferguson.
12) Zach Collins (Freshman, C, Gonzaga)
I care more about Collins’ 9’3 standing reach than an unimpressive 7’1 wingspan and the fact that he measured as a legitimate seven-footer is nice. His coming-out party in the NCAA Tournament was encouraging and, in terms of pure center prospects in this class, Collins is my favorite by a decent margin. He won’t be a star but Collins is a good athlete with good touch around the rim and defensive upside.
13) OG Anunoby (Sophomore, SG/SF, Indiana) – Everyone knew that the combine would treat Anunoby well and … it did. His 7’2 wingspan is wild on a 6’8 frame and the defensive tools he brings to the table are unmatched in this class. Can he be a functional offensive player in the NBA? That is the big concern but even if he becomes Tony Allen or Andre Roberson, he’s worth the No. 13 slot.
14) Luke Kennard (Sophomore, SG, Duke) – Kennard was the best college player at Duke this season and, yes, that includes Tatum. Obviously, his upside doesn’t approach Tatum’s in the NBA, though, and this is probably higher than most would have him. Kennard does bring a tantalizing combination of shooting and real ability as a secondary ball-handler and that should help to make up for his lack of measurables. Shooting plays in a big way and he’ll be an example.
15) Jarrett Allen (Freshman, C, Texas)
16) Justin Patton (Freshman, C, Creighton)
17) Harry Giles (Freshman, PF/C, Duke)
18) Isaiah Hartenstein (18-year-old, PF, Lithuania)
19) Hamidou Diallo (Freshman, SG, Kentucky)
20) Justin Jackson (Junior, SF, North Carolina)
21) Ivan Rabb (Sophomore, PF/C, California)
22) John Collins (Sophomore, PF/C, Wake Forest)
23) Donovan Mitchell (Sophomore, SG, Louisville)
24) Semi Ojeleye (Junior, SF, SMU)
25) Josh Hart (Senior, SG, Villanova)
26) Rodions Kurucs (18-year-old, SF, Latvia)
27) Monte Morris (Senior, PG, Iowa State)
28) Bam Adebayo (Freshman, PF/C, Kentucky)
29) Jawun Evans (Sophomore, PG, Oklahoma State)
30) Jordan Bell (Junior, PF/C, Oregon)