The Eastern Conference’s two most prestigious monthly awards fell into the hands of two members of the Boston Celtics Thursday afternoon. For the months of October and November, Jayson Tatum was recognized as the top player in the conference, while Joe Mazzulla was named the best coach during that same span.
They are the first Celtics tandem to earn Player and Coach of the Month in the same month since Larry Bird and K.C. Jones in March 1986, shortly before Boston won its 16th NBA title.
It’s a remarkable feat for the new player-coach duo; though, after posting an 18-4 record through Nov. 30, including a 10-2 mark against .500+ teams, it’s not difficult to believe.
During that stretch, Tatum posted an Eastern Conference-leading 31.6 points per game while shooting 48.8 percent from the field, 36.6 percent from 3-point range, and 87.3 percent from the free-throw line. He also averaged 7.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.1 blocks per game.
In November, he put up 31.9 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 4.9 APG, and 1.2 BPG, becoming just the second player in franchise history to average at least 30.0 PPG and 8.0 RPG throughout a single month, joining Larry Bird.
When it came to plus/minus leaders in November, Tatum was on an island by himself in first place. The Celtics were plus-191 during his time on the court, which was also the seventh-best mark for a player in franchise history. Meanwhile, Denver’s Nikola Jokic was a distant second at plus-137, and Marcus Smart was in third with a mark of plus-124.
Tatum closed out November with the best single-game plus/minus of his career against Charlotte followed by a season-high scoring effort against Miami. He was a plus-45 in just 30 minutes of action during Boston’s 140-105 win over the Hornets on Nov. 28 and then had his most dominant offensive performance with a 49-point effort against the Heat on Nov. 30.
In past years, Tatum has often started slow and finished strong, but this season is trending in a different direction. At the moment, he seems to be the MVP favorite – at least his teammates believe so.
“To play the way he did last year, to be in the MVP race at times last year, and then to take the jump he's taken this year has been pretty incredible to watch,” Malcolm Brogdon said following Wednesday night’s 134-121 win over Miami. “Undoubtedly, he should be leading the MVP race right now … He's playing at a superstar level.”
Tatum is accomplishing feats that very few Celtics superstars have ever achieved. He’s now just the third player in franchise history to earn multiple Player of the Month awards after also winning it in February 2020. Only seven-time winner Larry Bird and four-time winner Paul Pierce are above him on the franchise's all-time list. Though at the rate he’s going, 24-year-old Tatum could eventually pass them both.
Part of the reason Tatum has had such a successful start is that he’s being coached by someone who knows how to get the most out of him on the offensive end. Mazzulla has Tatum and the Celtics performing at a historic level, as they are currently on pace to smash the NBA’s offensive rating record.
Boston leads the league in scoring average at 121.9 points per game and its offensive rating of 121.5 is exactly five points higher than that of the second-place Phoenix Suns.
For reference highest offensive rating in NBA history was Brooklyn’s mark of 117.3 set during the shortened 2020-21 season. The highest offensive rating for a full season was Utah’s mark of 116.2 in 2021-22.
The Celtics’ offense has been especially dominant at home, where they have scored 120-plus points in eight straight games – all wins. The last time an NBA team had a streak like that was 40 seasons ago when Denver won nine straight while scoring 120-plus points from Feb. 2 to March 15, 1983.
In November, the team averaged more than 123 points and shot over 50 percent from the field for the first time in franchise history.
There has been little to no adjustment period for Mazzulla, which is largely due to the fact that he had already spent a few seasons on the team’s coaching staff. The players appear to love him already and have been showering him with praise since Day 1 of training camp.
Jaylen Brown, who's averaging a career-high 26.1 points per game, stated after Sunday night’s win over the Washington Wizards that Mazzulla has been pushing him to improve and become more involved in the offense throughout the season, and that’s exactly the type of coach that he wants.
Between Mazzulla’s seamless transition into his role as interim head coach and Tatum’s leap to an even higher tier of superstardom, it’s been quite the start for these two. They already have some hardware to show for it and hopefully, it's just the beginning.