During this past weekend, thousands of high schoolers around the United States donned their caps and gowns to graduate. Although most of them will move onto that next chapter in relative anonymity, there's one recent grad that won't have that chance. Recent high school grad and future Duke forward Jayson Tatum has stood in the basketball spotlight since he was just 15-years-old
At that time, Tatum was working one of the youngest on the 2013 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, where he played alongside current college studs Thomas Bryant and Ivan Rabb. Tatum didn't put on the best performance, as he put up 10 points and 2.8 assists on 37% from the field, simply being on that roster meant that he was looked at as one of the better high school players in the entire country.
Over the next three years, Tatum amassed a huge list of accomplishments at both the high school and international level. Including that 2013 performance, Tatum has led team USA to three gold medals in the U16 FIBA Americas title, and the U17 and U19 tournaments in 2014 and 2015. In high school, Tatum was the 3x Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year, the most times that a high school player (in any state) has won that award since it was initiated in 1986. That consistent on-court dominance at Chaminade pushed Tatum to be one of the elite high-school players in the country as he averaged 26.5 points and 11.7 rebounds per game during his senior season, while also being named as the 2016 Gatorade Player of the Year..
The future Duke forward was arguably be the best high school player due to how he's able to utilize his 6'8, 204 pound frame to be an incredibly versatile offensive player. Despite being positioned as a Small Forward during his international and high school career, Tatum's biggest asset for the future might be his ability to work as a big point guard in a similar mold as Grant Hill or Giannis Antetokounmpo. Tatum's an incredibly unselfish player as he does a fantastic job of using his size to overlook the defense and make the right pass. That's evident in the play below, as Tatum's able to utilize his frame to find the cutting big and make the pass which led to the easy score.
While his work as a facilitator makes Tatum into a pretty unique prospect, his main skill rests on his knack to cutting to the rim. Tatum's effective in both the half-court and transition, as his speed and ball-handling give him the ability to motor his way past forwards. In transition, Tatum's like a blur with how quickly he can move down the court. As he moves closer to the rim, Tatum can quickly shake defenders with a sidestep to get an easier look at the rim. Working in the half-court, Tatum has an incredibly quick first step, which combined with his speed and ball-handling ability, making him into an incredibly dangerous cutter.
As a jump shooter, Tatum has continued to make steady progressions over the last few seasons. While he's not too comfortable with shooting from beyond the arc, Tatum has established a pretty refined mid-range game which is mainly done off-the-dribble. Tatum does a terrific job of either utilizing off-ball screens or just using his handles to create some separation from his defender. Tatum finishes those plays off with a pretty smooth shooting stroke that has a nice and high release point.
All of this is made possible by Tatum having an amazing feel for the game. Despite just turning 18 in March, he has the on-court awareness of an NBA vet. He always seems like a step or two ahead of the competition with how he's able to read the defenses and know what his teammates are going to do next. That basketball IQ and general feel for a game is just something that you barely see from a college player, let alone someone that just received his high school diploma.
As he embarks on that next stage of his young basketball career, it's easily apparent that there's no limit for what Jayson Tatum could do with Duke or when he reaches the NBA. He's a rare talent that combines an extremely versatile skill-set with such a high basketball IQ. And while he may be overshadowed by fellow Duke forward Harry Giles (ESPN's top-rated prospect for the class of 2016), there's still no doubt that we'll continue to see Tatum shine for years to come.