BOSTON – The debate about who will become the best player from the 2017 NBA draft is a three-man race between redshirt rookie Ben Simmons, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell and the Celtics' Jayson Tatum.
All three will have great NBA careers, but the belief that Tatum will be the best of the bunch – a belief shared recently by former ESPN NBA analyst J.A. Adande and many others – is one that’s going to gain steam as time passes on. Adande, now director of sports journalism at Northwestern University, talked about it on Jeff Goodman's "Good N Plenty" podcast for CLNS Media.
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Simmons, who sat out the 2016-17 season with an injury and returned a year later to win the league’s rookie of the year award, is going to be a load for teams to deal with for years to come. Still, as long as he remains a no-show when it comes to showing up to shoot jumpers or any shot outside the paint, that hole in his game will keep him from reaching his full potential which would be to become one of the greatest guards to ever play in the NBA.
As for Mitchell, he’s going to be a very good player for a long time as well because of his scoring ability, 6-10 wingspan and overall toughness. But being a superstar out West is not easy, especially in a market such as Utah, which doesn't attract the elite, upper echelon free agents which are absolutely must-haves for a superstar to do what the great ones do and that's win at the highest of levels.
And then there’s Tatum, who really does have some Kevin Durant-like qualities to his game as well as a similar build.
Both came into the NBA as long, lanky scorers who just got buckets in an assortment of ways.
While Durant has better length, Tatum’s perimeter shooting and overall efficiency as a scorer are ahead of where Durant was at the same stage of his career.
Tatum was among the league’s top 3-point shooters for most of the season and finished with a respectable 43.4 percent shooting rate on 3s which led all rookies and ranked 8th in the NBA.
Meanwhile, Durant was a sub-30 percent 3-point shooter as a rookie. To Durant’s credit, he bounced back the following season and shot 42.2 percent on 3s which remains his career high.
Don’t look for Tatum’s scoring numbers to come close to mirroring those of Durant anytime soon. Tatum plays for a team that’s one of the favorites to get to the NBA Finals and has lots of offensive balance, led by all-stars Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. Those Seattle (later Oklahoma City) teams Durant played for, were fighting to just be competitive.
Defensively, this one isn’t even close – Tatum by a landslide.
And again, we’re talking about where Tatum is now and where Durant was as an NBA rookie defensively. Since those early years, Durant has evolved into a really good defender both man-to-man and as a help defender. Tatum plays with better defenders and in doing so, has benefited from good defensive habits that most young players drafted as high as he was, are not exposed to. And as talented a scorer as Tatum proven himself to be, it was his defense more than anything else that got him on the floor early on.
The career of Durant is cemented as one of the greatest players of this generation and certainly a first-ballot Hall of Famer because of his play and success in Oklahoma City and Golden State.
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Tatum’s nowhere close to being there yet. But when you look at his size, his length, defense, overall feel for the game and the rate at which the Celtics keep building on the win total from one year to the next … it looks a lot like what we have seen from Durant.
And we’ve all seen how his career has turned out.