PHOENIX SUNS

Duke assistant Jon Scheyer makes the case for Jayson Tatum on the Suns

May 24, 2017, 1:34 PM | Updated: May 25, 2017, 2:14 pm
Duke forward Jayson Tatum (0) drives against Virginia Tech guard Chris Clarke (15) the first half o...

Duke forward Jayson Tatum (0) drives against Virginia Tech guard Chris Clarke (15) the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec 31, 2016, at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va. Va Tech won 89-75. (AP Photo/Don Petersen)

(AP Photo/Don Petersen)
LISTEN: Jon Scheyer, Duke men's basketball assistant coach

Among the wings available for the Phoenix Suns at No. 4 in the NBA Draft, Josh Jackson looks like the best fit as a defensive stopper and secondary ball handler to Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker.

He might be off the board, and the wide world of mock drafts would generally consider Duke forward Jayson Tatum the next-best prospect.

Defensively and offensively, there are concerns that weigh down Tatum’s ceiling, as our own Kellan Olson pointed out.

Nitpicking is what it is. Tatum, a 6-foot-8, 205-pound freshman who averaged 16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.3 steals as a freshman, is a top prospect for a reason.

Duke assistant coach Jon Scheyer recruited Tatum since the player’s sophomore year in high school and coached him through his freshman season.

“It sounds like I’m calling him a loser right now; he doesn’t have much else outside of basketball,” Scheyer said of Tatum while joining Doug and Wolf on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station. “He’s really focused on the game. He works his butt off and was amazing to coach this year.”

Scheyer offered more perspective by touching on Tatum’s noted flaws.

He could be a two-level scorer if not three-level

Tatum’s midrange game was elite and efficient. Despite him being isolation-dependent, he still shot 45 percent overall and got to the foul stripe nearly five times per game.

From deep, he has questions to answer.

At four attempts per game on 34-percent shooting, Tatum’s shot is by no means poor. However, he has room to grow when it comes to awareness.

“The thing he would struggle with is because he knew he could create, he wasn’t comfortable right away just catching and shooting,” Scheyer said. “He was always more comfortable off the bounce, putting it on the floor and then going and creating his shot because he could do that. I think that will be an adjustment for him … being ready to shoot, catching and being ready to shoot.”

This week, Tatum’s trainer posted an Instagram video of a shooting session with the caption: “And ‘the experts’ say @jaytatum0 can’t shoot… 🙄 #NewFormWhoDis.”

And “the experts” say @jaytatum0 can’t shoot… 🙄 #NewFormWhoDis

A post shared by Drew Hanlen (@drewhanlen) on

Understanding that Tatum is catching the ball here with his knees straight — his release takes eons — doesn’t prove a whole lot until we see how it looks with defenders closing out.

He improved a great deal on defense

Forgetting that the college season is limited to 30-some games is easy.

That Tatum missed the first eight games of the year — more than a month — with a foot sprain and returned out of basketball shape hampered his adjustment, especially on defense. By the end of the year, Scheyer said he was covering up mistakes by his teammates.

“I think Jayson has unfairly been given this thing where he’s a below-average athlete and he’s a below-average defender,” Scheyer said. “I think that’s furthest from the truth. Is he going to be the guy who jumps the highest? No he’s not. But he has really good timing and is a very good athlete.

“As a defender, he missed the first six weeks of the season. As a freshman, those are the most precious times you can have where you’re learning the game, understanding your responsibilities and roles in where you need to be on the defensive end. It was just an adjustment. I think he can be a very, very good defender and defend multiple positions in the NBA.”

At Duke, Tatum defended players big and small. But he showed lapses in focus some times and missed assignments during others.

Scheyer said there was enough improvement to be encouraged about Tatum’s NBA potential on the defensive end.

“He’s a very smart defender,” the Duke assistant said. “He would clean up a lot of things on our defense. Any time things would break down, he would be on the backside either rebounding, blocking shots, blocking out. He came a long way from the beginning of the year to the end of the year on the defensive end.”

He will complement Devin Booker

If Tatum’s catch-and-shoot ability improves as Scheyer suggests, it could certainly work.

Scheyer also sees the spacing of the NBA with its deeper three-point line benefitting Tatum. Double teams won’t swarm him so easily when he’s working in the midpost.

“I think they actually complement each other very well,” Scheyer said of a potential Booker-Tatum tandem. “He also has a post-up game, midrange, I think that’s his killspot where if he gets it anywhere in the midpost, he’s terrific down there.

“In a few years, it could be the best wing, one-two punch in the NBA.”

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Duke assistant Jon Scheyer makes the case for Jayson Tatum on the Suns