For NBA talent evaluators, particularly among teams in the lottery looking for versatile wings, the game offered a chance to evaluate high-impact versions for both the Blue Devils in Jayson Tatum and Seminoles in Jonathan Isaac.
While Josh Jackson is the consensus top choice for any team looking for a three, both Tatum and Isaac offer the tantalizing versatility that makes regular play at the four seem quite possible. In Isaac’s case, his height -- 6-feet-11 -- offers the promise of a stretch-four skill set, complete with a smooth 3-point stroke and bouncy rebounding ability. Tatum is just 6-8, but with a wingspan approaching 7-feet, and a sturdy, NBA body.
Here’s an example of what the latter looks like in practice. Tatum defended Isaac for much of the time the two spent on the court together (mostly the first half). And so when given the chance to keep Isaac from getting in the lane, he would use his lateral quickness and, at times, his physicality to push him out of his preferred spots. This is a hybrid example, where the super-quick Isaac couldn’t get around Tatum, nor through him.
But if you want a microcosm of how Tatum effortlessly floats between interior defending and assorted perimeter harassment, take a look at this possession, where he bodies a big, then jumps out and ends up with the ball -- allowing us to see his comfort with bringing it up as well.
As for Isaac, his strength around the basket on the defensive end is notable, given how much time he spends on the perimeter. Notice how he counters a Tatum drive here -- not by leaping, or rushing at him, but merely standing his ground.
Why is this so significant? Because that’s the same Jonathan Isaac who can do this, shooting the 3 over a solid closeout.
And the same Isaac who shows this kind of presence of mind away from the ball. Watch how much sooner he recognizes the opportunity for a backdoor here, compared to everyone else on the court.
Tatum impressed offensively as well. Those who have been optimistic about his 3-point shot -- partly due to mechanics, partly because he’s shooting 87 percent from the free-throw line -- are getting rewarded. Even including an 0 for 7 against Miami last week, he’s at 41.9 percent over his past eight games, with a stroke that looks like this. (Note how he doesn’t rush.)
But he is far from a gunner. That is merely the final piece of the offensive puzzle. Tatum faces up on Isaac, and not only does he drive from the wing and get to the basket, he draws a critical second foul on Isaac, which in one stroke knocked Isaac out of the game for the remainder of the first half and gave Duke the advantage it wouldn’t relinquish.
Strong, quick and smart in one package. That’s how teams see both Tatum and Isaac. Choosing between them isn’t something I envy, though any team who ends up with either should be very happy.