Even before the 2017 NBA Draft, Jayson Tatum knew he was going to be a Boston Celtic.
“The Celtics were always going to pick me,” Tatum said in August of 2017, two months after Boston had traded the No. 1 overall pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 3 pick (plus a conditional future first-round pick) with which they selected Tatum.
“We think there’s a really good chance the player we’ll take at three is the same player we would have taken at one,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said at the time.
The Sixers used the No. 1 pick on Markelle Fultz, who had been linked to Boston before the draft. But Tatum knew differently.
“Philly thought Boston was going to pick Markelle, so Philly traded the pick and gave Boston a pick for next year,” he said. “So Boston was like, ‘Well, we can still get the player we want, a next year’s pick, and then we can get the player we wanted for less money.’ So Boston still got all that they wanted, and Philly had to give up something.”
Boston, which hosts the Wizards Friday night at TD Garden, has certainly got all that it wanted from Tatum, and possibly more. After his All-Rookie campaign in 2017-18, during which he helped the Celtics reach the Eastern Conference Finals, Tatum is averaging 16.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in 2018-19. At 20 years old, he’s a key contributor on one of the best teams in the conference, starting every game for Boston so far this season.
The Wizards have just one of their own first-round draft picks since 2013 still on the roster: Troy Brown Jr., Washington’s 2018 selection. The Wizards could not only use an injection of youth like the one Tatum brought Boston, but also a player similar to Tatum after trading Otto Porter before the trade deadline: a wing scorer with the ability to create their own offense.
With John Wall set to miss the rest of this season and the majority of next year with a ruptured Achilles, the Wizards need another dynamic playmaker on the perimeter alongside Bradley Beal who can get their own shot. Tatum does this in spades for the Celtics, scoring in a variety of ways. Porter showed flashes of this skillset during this time in D.C., but did not attack with aggression on a consistent basis.
If they're searching for a Tatum clone, the Wizards can start by looking at the current crop of freshmen phenoms at Duke, where Tatum starred in 2016-17. The Blue Devils have not one, but two slashers with NBA star potential: RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. Barrett is the more polished scorer, leading the ACC with 23.3 points per game, but Reddish is (at least hypothetically) the better outside shooter and athlete, with a wingspan over seven feet long.
Either player could help the Wizards from the get-go next season, but it could take some luck to get them: both are expected to be off the board after the fourth pick, and Washington currently has less than a nine percent chance to land a top-four pick per Tankathon.com. Those odds could certainly improve, however, if Washington continues to fall in the standings.
For another wing option with tremendous upside, the Wizards could look 10 miles down the road from Duke to Chapel Hill and Tar Heels forward Nassir Little. The problem with Little is he, unlike Tatum, has not lived up to the hype in his freshman year at UNC. However, he undoubtedly possesses many of the tools which Tatum has, too: good athleticism, aggression and the ability to score multiple ways.
This not to say any of these players will turn into Jayson Tatum. But if the Wizards feel as good about Barrett, Reddish or Little as the Celtics did Tatum, they should follow Boston’s example and be willing to do whatever it takes to get the player they want.
MORE WIZARDS NEWS:
- Mock Draft: Who's after Zion Williamson?
- Troy Brown at PG? Wall's injury may force the issue
- Change of Plans: Wizards were planning trade that would have kept Otto in D.C.