There’s a lot of MVP talk brewing around Jayson Tatum. His interim head coach, Joe Mazzulla, wouldn’t have it any other way.
Prior to Monday’s matchup with the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder, Mazzulla was asked whether he discourages that kind of talk, or if he sees a change in Tatum this season. His answer was very telling.
“You definitely don’t discourage it,” Mazzulla said. “I think it comes down to just focusing on what he’s doing as a player, and right now, he’s committed on both ends of the floor.”
Tatum’s offense, in particular, has placed him right in the middle of the MVP conversation. He enters tonight’s game ranked third in the league in scoring average (32.3 points per game), and he’s scoring those points in an incredibly efficient manner. He ranks sixth in the league in true shooting percentage among perimeter players at 65.3 percent, which is a massive spike from his mark of 57.8 percent last season.
“He makes the right read on the offensive end,” Mazzulla continued to say of Tatum’s dominant offensive play this season. “And he figures out how defenses are guarding him and reads coverages and knows how to attack, whether it’s pick-and-roll ball handler, pick-and-roll screener, or off-ball screener. So it’s just expanding his game. It’s made him a better player, which we’re thankful for. And it’s made our team better.”
Mazzulla points to last season’s loss in the NBA Finals as the motivator behind Tatum’s excellent play. While the Celtics certainly wish they had won that series against Golden State, Tatum learned and grew from the experience of defeat on the game’s biggest stage.
“I think anytime you go through something, whether it’s good or bad, you’re gonna come out learning more on the other side,” Mazzulla commented. “Our team and him specifically has been through yet another opportunity with our trip to the Finals and coming up empty-handed. So when you have situations like that, you’re naturally going to want to learn and grow and figure out where you can get better.”
That’s exactly what Tatum has done. He’s averaging career highs in scoring, field goal percentage, free throw attempts per game, free throw percentage, and blocks per game. His team also just so happens to be 10-3 on the season.
Tatum has to be right in the thick of the MVP race, and his coach wouldn’t have it any other way.