And the Thunder Select: Tari Eason

And the Thunder Select: Tari Eason

Throughout the season, I’ve been building up some draft takes while watching NCAA. With the college season coming to an end and the draft lottery on the horizon, it’s time to bring out the takes.

I’m aware Thunder fans are very antsy about the top of the draft, but there will be plenty of time to discuss the top guys in this class once we are more aware of the order. For now, I’ll be discussing prospects Oklahoma City can hopefully land with their second first-round pick from the Clippers. First up on that list? Tari Eason from LSU.

  • Born: May 10, 2001
  • Draft Age: 21.1
  • High School: Garfield HS
  • RSCI: 93
  • College: Cincinnati, LSU
  • Measurements (Projected): 6’8, 215 pounds, 6’9 – 7’0 wingspan
  • Consensus Ranking: 15th

Shades of: Jerami Grant, Turbo Al-Farouq Aminu, Offensively Gifted Jarred Vanderbilt

Tari Eason really came into his own this season at LSU following his transfer from Cincinnati. He was named First-Team All-SEC while–funny enough–winning the SEC Sixth Man of the Year as well. As quite easily LSU’s best player, it was odd to see him coming off the bench so often, but it could have something to do with him being a bit foul-prone at times. Alas, Eason was a fast riser throughout the season and was on breakout watch prior to it, and has solidified himself as a first-rounder in this class. Before diving into specific attributes of his game, I stumbled upon this query while writing this piece.

Eason is one of six high-major players from Bart Torvik’s database (since 2008) to put up:

  • 10 AST%
  • 5 BLK%
  • 3 STL%
  • 50+ 3PA
  • 64% FT

The players joining him on that list are Zion Williamson, Gary Clark, Matisse Thybulle, Chuma Okeke, and Paul Reed. Of that group, Eason’s BPM of 13.5 ranks second, and he is one of the three freshmen/sophomores listed. I’m aware that the list is somewhat arbitrary (if you remove free throw percentage you get Nicholas Baer and Chris Singleton), but I decided to include it to show that these players had some positive shooting projection coming into the league.

This is a good statistical threshold to showcase defensive ability combined with athleticism, passing flashes, and a hopeful shooting projection. Eason’s true shooting percentage (65%) ranks second on this list, narrowly ahead of Gary Clark–who achieved these numbers during his senior season at the age of 23–and behind Zion Williamson. With that out of the way, let’s look at some of Eason’s specific skills that will translate to the NBA.

Defense and Creating Havoc

The calling card to Eason’s game is his combination of defensive ability and athleticism. Not only are his instincts at a high level, but his motor is always running. He racks up steals and blocks at a pretty elite rate and is always playing passing lanes and running the floor in transition. His career 6.7 BLK% and 4.2 STL% stand out immensely from this year’s crop of prospects. For a player with a budding offensive game, these takeaways can be a good source of offensive value in your first few years in the NBA, providing your team with easy transition baskets.

The ability to get your hands on the ball all the time on defense is pretty special. Because of this, however, he has struggled with foul problems throughout his two years in college, amassing a career 4.8 fouls per 40 minutes. A lot of his deflections and takeaways lead directly into a fastbreak opportunity, in which he has shined due to his sheer athleticism and occasional ball-handling capabilities in the open floor.

The Thunder are specifically lacking a powerful vertical athlete like Eason. Darius Bazley is more of a fluid and graceful athlete, and nobody else (especially OKC’s big men/forwards) comes even close to what Eason can provide. On the polar opposite of Eason, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is more of a fundamentally sound defender (not that Eason isn’t smart; he very much is), but Eason provides rotation skills and weakside defense paired with elite havoc creation thanks to his tremendous athleticism on that end of the floor.

The Thunder don’t really have any athletes like this in the open floor. These types of play finishers are valuable to every NBA team and it’s not hard to envision Eason thriving on plays like these early in his career as he sharpens his perimeter game. Eason’s reaction time and combination of size and length are impressive when watching him on defense. It’s also rare to see the best player on your team play with constant energy, but Eason did so on a nightly basis for LSU.

Slashing and Offensive Ability

This past season at LSU, Eason shot 64.3 percent at the rim with only 44.5 percent of those makes being assisted. That’s a pretty good ratio for a 6’8 sophomore forward who led his team in usage. Eason really knows how to get to his spots, and he can use his functional handle and athleticism to blow by defenses or outmaneuver them for easy buckets at the rim

Moves like this are something that Eason is very capable of pulling off. His 48 dunks on the year are quite a lot for a 6’8 forward, and his his physicality when attacking the basket led to a 51.5 free throw rate, a good indicator of his foul drawing ability.

This play is an encapsulation of Eason’s game: the defensive prowess to get the steal and the athleticism to pull off a behind-the-back dunk. That’s a risky move to pull in-game, but Eason makes it look effortless.

These kinds of “make something out of nothing plays” provide very encouraging flashes of a self-created perimeter game from Eason. He has shown the ability to handle the ball in situations like these and is adept at drawing contact in the lane. This is a tough shot to get up after taking that second body blow by the defender inside the restricted area, and it showcases the body control the type of athlete that Eason harnesses. He has no issues finishing through contact and is very efficient at putting pressure on the rim.

Barring a sudden perimeter shooting development, Eason’s early offensive output seems like it will follow the path of a lot of high motor forwards in the NBA. Layups, dunks, transition offense, and catch and shoot threes will be his bread and butter as his offensive game develops. Jerami Grant in OKC underwent a similar development arc, finishing a lot of his baskets above the rim or spotting up from three.

Jerami Grant 2018-2019 Shot Tendencies:

  • 0-3 Feet: 42% of FGA
  • 3-10 Feet: 14.1% of FGA
  • 3P: 35.6% of FGA

I expect Eason to fall along these lines, a nice blend of play finishing opportunities, hustle plays, and occasional self-created chances.

In addition to his slashing, Eason has flashed some pretty interesting playmaking chops. Throughout the year he has showcased some impressive vision for a player of his archetype and is a very capable connecting piece in an offense.

He’s racked up quite a few of these passes where he’s sort of mid-air before delivering a pass down low. This is some impressive vision, and is certainly much easier when you’re 6’8 and can see over the defense. Passing is not a standout skill of his, but he certainly isn’t a black hole on offense. Eason is very capable of finding the open man and making a quick read to an open shooter.

Questionable Jumper

The biggest question mark to Eason’s game is his outside jumper. On the surface, 35.9 percent from three looks to be a solid number. But when looking a little deeper, we can see that 85.7 percent of those makes were assisted, and he had a very up and down year in terms of his percentages.

  • First 40 attempts: 32.5 percent from three, 77.8 percent from the line
  • Last 38 attempts: 39.5 percent, 82.2 percent from the line

So which numbers are real? The truth is that it’s most likely somewhere in the middle (as evident by his overall percentages) but perhaps he truly did take a step forward in this department. I’m not qualified enough to speak on his mechanics and I didn’t notice much of a difference, but this is a pretty big swing in the middle of the season.

When watching this clip, all I could think of was Paul George. Not that Eason will end up anywhere near PG, but aesthetically this reminds me of the threes that George has made over the years. The volume of threes attempted is promising for further shooting development, and flashes like in the clip above are tantalizing when evaluating Eason.

He took a huge jump in percentages as well following his lone year at Cincinnati, which could very well indicate he is just on an upward shooting trajectory. After hardly playing his first two years in high school, Eason is finally catching up in terms of in-game reps and is flourishing as a result. How far the jumper develops will ultimately define his NBA career, and if it becomes a consistent weapon, we could be wondering how he fell out of the top 10.

Lock it In?

I believe Eason to be a lottery talent, easily, and a worthwhile pick anywhere after the first seven or so in a draft year fairly murky outside of the top four. His statistical dominance, ever-developing offensive game, and NBA-ready defense and athleticism is a combination that is far too intriguing to let slip by. For the Thunder specifically, it’s not hard to see him quickly superseding Bazley. Despite their recent decline, the Thunder are still 14th in adjusted defensive rating (via Dunks and Threes), and Eason could slide in as a 4/5 hybrid and take on some defensive responsibilities that someone like Josh Giddey may not be able to handle in 1-on-1 situations.

At the end of the day, if his jumper becomes more consistent and the defense and athleticism translate as I expect them to, we could be looking at a sub All-Star impact from Tari Eason for a very lucky NBA team.