Jayson Tatum: Junior Primer

By the time he’s finished playing high school ball in St. Louis, Jayson Tatum could be remembered as one of the finest players ever to emerge from the city.

How he got here

Bloodlines can be a thing. Not always, and not to any standard degree, but time and again we see famous parents with offspring as talented as them.

Or even more talented. That appears to be case with 6-8 forward Jayson Tatum, whose father, Justin, played for Saint Louis in the early ‘00s and averaged nearly double figure scoring.

But Jayson is a different level of prospect from his pops. From the moment he first gained attention within St. Louis, locals have followed and supported him closely. Tatum enrolled as a freshman at Chaminade College Prep, which also nurtured the talents of Bradley Beal and David Lee.

Tatum’s length, skills and production enable him to dominate

Even prior to his first high school game, his family had received inquiries from Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State, Iowa State, Baylor and, of course, the hometown Billikens.

He competed on the underclass circuit for the St. Louis Eagles in 2013, serving notice that he belonged among the most heralded prospects in the class. By the end of that summer he’d drawn firm offers from SLU, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Florida, Illinois, Marquette, Memphis and Missouri.

Tatum continued to buzzsaw his way through the competition as a sophomore. Already a player who could fill the stands even on the road, his exploits earned him consideration for the top spot in the class nationally.

He stepped up to 17-under competition on the 2014 travel circuit. Once again playing with the Eagles, Tatum easily was one of the best players on the entire Nike circuit, regardless of class.

In 16 games his numbers included 19 points and seven rebounds per contest, and he ripped away more than two steals per game as well.

By early fall, he was ready to announce a group of 10 finalists: Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Arizona, Illinois, Missouri, Wake Forest, Connecticut and hometown Saint Louis.

As one would expect, Tatum has dazzled during his junior year. He presently ranks No. 3 in the junior class and is one of a handful of genuine contenders for No. 1.

To 2015. …

At 6-8, Tatum boasts wondrous skills for his height. He handles with complete coordination and frequently creates shots off the bounce. He loves to slice into the lane and loft in short jump shots on the move. He changes directions very well and utilizes stop-and-go action proficiently.

He also possesses jump shooting range to 22 feet, but clearly this is an area he can improve this year. Tatum shot just 42 percent from the field for the Eagles last year, including 28 percent on threes. His mechanics don’t look bad, so most likely he simply needs the reps. The fact that he hit 75 percent of his free throws bodes well.

Naturally, he also must gain strength. At roughly 190 pounds, he has a long way to go physically. On the other hand, the fact that he’s a good rebounder already indicates how many other positive attributes he possesses.

Because we’re talking about a consensus top-five player, the widely held — and entirely reasonable — expectation is that Tatum will spend one year of college prior to advancing to the NBA. If you asked someone who’s seen him whether he projects as a pro, you’d most likely get a funny look in return.

The long-term questions pertain first to his position. Will he evolve into a face-up fourman or will he remain a pure wing. Tatum has grown during the course of high school and thus could slot best in a hybrid role. The view here, however, is that his frame is better suited to defend on the perimeter, and because he has long arms he can afford to take a step back from opposing wings who may have a quickness advantage.

Of the prime candidates for No. 1 — also including power forward Harry Giles and wing Josh Jackson — Tatum is the least athletic of that trio for his position. At the same time, however, he’s the most polished and most complete. He also boasts superior overall skills, and at 6-8 he doesn’t have to be an elite athlete to become highly productive.

And again, this is a relative thing. Tatum certainly is athletic and should become an NBA starter, however the hierarchy of the 2016 class ultimately shakes out. Whether he can ascend to a level higher than that, to the all-star level, is how the questions will be framed as he begins to work out in earnest for NBA scouts.

But those queries won’t get answered for at least another couple years, and for the next 6-8 months Tatum will be one of the key showmen of the junior class and the subject of a brutally intense recruiting war. His talent commands it.

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