The first Eastern Conference Player of the Month award for the 2023-24 season deservedly went to the best player on the best team for games played in October and November.
For the third time in his career, Jayson Tatum has earned the East’s monthly honor. Only Larry Bird (seven-time winner) and Paul Pierce (four-time winner) have earned more. It’s also the second straight year in which the All-NBA wing was recognized as the conference’s top player through the first month-plus of the season, with his last win coming in October/November of the 2022-23 season.
Tatum helped to get his Celtics off to a conference-best 14-4 start through the end of November while averaging 27.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. His scoring average ranked third in the East behind Joel Embiid (32.0 PPG) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (29.8 PPG); however, the difference between Tatum and those two guys is that the former scored at such a high volume despite playing alongside four other starters who are all capable of scoring 20-plus on any given night.
It's also worth highlighting the well-roundedness of Tatum’s offensive production, as he ranked among the top players in the conference in several sub-scoring categories. He tallied 149 pull-up points (fourth), 37 post-up points (second), and 82 points off turnovers (first). He also made 175 field goals (second), including 57 from 3-point range (fourth).
On top of all that, Tatum is scoring at the most efficient rate of his career. Through the end of November, he was shooting a career-best 49.4 percent from the field, including a career-high 60.2 percent from inside the 3-point arc on 10.9 such attempts per game. By comparison, his career averages in those departments were 45.8 percent and 50.9 percent, respectively, entering the season.
He and Antetokounmpo were the only two East players who shot over 60% from 2-point range among players with at least 10 such attempts per game.
JT also shot a respectable 36.1 percent from long range, putting him on pace to exceed the rate from his previous two seasons (35.0 percent in 2022-23 and 35.3 percent in 2021-22).
Tatum put in work on the other end, as well, where he helped lead the C’s to a conference-best 107.1 defensive rating.
He led the East with 8.1 defensive rebounds per game, which is absurd for a wing player (the next closest by a non-big was Toronto’s Scottie Barnes at 6.4). He also tied Jaylen Brown for the most defensive win shares in the East with 0.2.
Tatum had a handful of individual standout performances scattered across the month that helped contribute to his overall production. His best game was a monster 45-point, 13-rebound, six-assist, two-block effort Nov. 20 at Charlotte. He corralled a season-high 15 rebounds Nov. 8 at Philadelphia, which was one of his seven double-doubles through the end of the month. And he tied a career-high with five steals during a 32-point outing Nov. 24 at Orlando.
In all, it’s been a heck of a start for the seventh-year wing. Tatum's been the best player on the best team in the conference – arguably in the whole league, for that matter – and is well on his way toward another MVP-caliber season.