NEW YORK. This time last year, Tari Eason was in the middle of making a decision that would change the trajectory of his career. After a disappointing rookie season in Cincinnati where he only averaged 7.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in 18 minutes, Eason decided to enter the transfer portal and eventually landed at LSU.
At the time, Will Wade had only drafted three players (most notably Cam Thomas with the 27th overall pick of the Brooklyn Nets in 2021), but Eason loved the freedom the offense provided and the idea of playing in a new conference.
“It was time to learn, it was a new team, a new season, a new league, and I was just adjusting to everything,” Eason told Sportzshala Sports. “That made me feel more comfortable in the game and that’s when things started to open up.”
Midway through the season, Eason became one of the top defensemen in college basketball due to his 6’8″ height, 7’2″ wingspan, and ability to defend all five positions effectively. NBA scouts started to take notice. In the second half of the season, Eason began to consistently appear as a first-round prospect in practice drafts.
“Honestly, a year ago I never imagined I would be here,” Eason told Sportzshala Sports. “I imagined how I would be drafted and my dreams would come true. I just didn’t know when. it would happen.”
It really happened, and Eason was only a few hours away from the realization of his dream.
The 2022 NBA Draft is a tough one, with the same four players leading the entire season: Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero and Jayden Ivey. Picks five through nine have some stability and value mixed in with a few players with high growth potential and others who have played consistently.
Starting with pick #10, it turns into the Wild, Wild West. Watching Eason all season and seeing his measurements and how he projects to the next level (numbers and tangibles that very similar to 2021-22 Rookie of the Year Scotty Barnes), it’s hard to imagine a player like Eason dropping out of the lottery.
In his year at Florida State, Barnes averaged 10.3 points, four rebounds and 4.1 assists in 24 games off the bench. Eason averaged 16.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 52% shooting from the field in his second season.
“I definitely see comparisons in our games,” Eason told Sportzshala Sports. “Scotty [Barnes] a great player in his own right, but we have the same height, the same wingspan, the same style of play. Every time you get compared to rookie of the year it’s a blessing and I think one of the differences that scouts point out is that I’m a bit older. That’s all.”
One of the biggest hits and concerns for scouts in Eason’s game is his 3-point shot and creating dribble opportunities for himself. The 6-foot-8 Wing averaged just 36% of three-point range while trying to hit 2.4 threes per game. Similar concerns were around Barnes, who only made 27.5% of his 3-point attempts during his first season.
According to Synergy Sports, Eason is playing superbly during the transition, ranking 90th and averaging 1.4 points per open court possession. And, unsurprisingly, Barnes had the same performance during the transition, averaging 1.3 points per possession two seasons ago.
In terms of defense, Eason was one of the best defenders on the wing. He will do it all from chasing blocks from behind in a walkway, going toe-to-toe with players who are above the switch, and sliding with guards on the lane trying to hit him. Eason averaged one block per game, but the defensive punch he landed every night with a 7-foot-2 wingspan gave an idea of what he could become at the next level.
“Block shots have always been a part of my game and I’ve always prided myself on my defense and my tough game,” Eason told Sportzshala Sports. “Even when I wasn’t super athletic, I always played hard, and as I got athletic and bigger, all those things started to grow.”
The way Eason played in his sophomore year, and the athletic growth he showed at the end of the season, is on par with what Barnes was before the draft. However, Eason, who is two years older than Barnes at this point last year, doesn’t get the same amount of hype or hoopla. Barnes was supposed to be in the top five; Eason is slated to span his late teens to early 20s.
“I definitely think I’ll sleep in this draft and only time will tell,” Eason told Sportzshala Sports. “I can only control what I can control, and there are certain things that go into every draft decision.”
Eason understands that his 3-point shot gives teams pause and how he can create for other players off the flank on offense, but he uses all the feedback as motivation to get better.
“I’ve improved my three-point shooting as scouts have noticed from last year to this year and I’m getting better every year,” Eason told Sportzshala Sports. “It’s a part of my game that I’ve kept working on and developing, and if that’s the biggest issue that people care about, then let me say that every player should have something, so I’ll just keep working.”
For his part, Eason went above and beyond to prove who he is and earn his place on the roster by working for 12 teams during the pre-draft: Atlanta, Minnesota, Charlotte, New York, New Orleans, Oklahoma. City, Washington, Chicago, Portland, San Antonio, Memphis and Houston. His Thursday night draft range is six to 22.
“The feedback I got while training was great,” Eason told Sportzshala Sports. “They definitely see my ability to defend and turn on every player, be it smaller defenders or bigger players. I think my versatility shines and they see my length and what I can do to keep the ball in defence. and guard every position.”
On a team’s draft boards, a lot depends on who they like, but on a draft there’s always one player who drops a little and becomes a star in a year or two. With Eason’s stature, athleticism and untapped potential, he could be a gem in the draft, and if history repeats itself with the player we saw rise this year at Barnes, Eason could be in the conversation for rookie of the year with his skill at turning defense into attack.
“I really try not to let anyone work harder than me,” Eason told Sportzshala Sports. “Anyone who has ever been around me knows that I am always proud of my work ethic. it’s a level playing field. Zero-zero between all. And that’s when the real work begins.”