2019-20 Season Refresh: Jayson Tatum
This season, Celtics fans have witnessed the birth of a superstar right in front of their eyes.
Jayson Tatum started off the 2019-20 campaign as one of the league’s budding stars. Though, within a couple of months, the term "budding" was no longer necessary upon earning his first All-Star selection.
Simply reaching stardom wasn’t satisfying enough for Tatum, however, as he shifted into an even higher gear during the second half of the season, vaulting himself straight into the upper echelon of NBA players.
Prior to earning his All-Star selection on Jan. 30, Tatum had been averaging 21.5 points per game on 43.5 percent shooting from the field and 36.6 percent shooting from 3-point range, which was a solid improvement from the 15.7 PPG he logged during his sophomore campaign. During the 17 games since his mid-season recognition, the 22-year-old wing has seen his numbers skyrocket to 28.6 PPG on a 47.7 percent clip from the field and a 45.8 percent clip from deep.
It wasn’t mere coincidence that Tatum’s second leap coincided with being named an All-Star, as he explained in late-March, “It was like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders when I found out. Ever since then, I've just played a lot more relaxed and a lot more free."
Eight out of Tatum’s top 10 scoring performances on the season have come during the 17 games following his All-Star selection, including a career-high-tying 41-point effort on Feb. 23 at Staples Center, where he went toe-to-toe with LeBron James. Ten days prior to that matchup, he dropped 39 points on Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers, while leading the Celtics to a thrilling double-overtime win at TD Garden.
Not only has Tatum been Boston’s top high-volume scorer this season, but he has also been its most well-rounded player from a statistical standpoint. He is the only member of the team who ranks among the top five in all five major categories, as he is currntly first in scoring (23.6 PPG), second in both rebounds (7.1 RPG) and steals (1.4 SPG), third in blocks (0.9 BPG), and fourth in assists (2.9 APG).
From a league-wide perspective, Tatum is one of only two players who rank among the top 40 in total points, rebounds, steals, and blocks. The other player is seven-time All-Star Anthony Davis.
All of Tatum’s numbers continue to rise as he becomes more aggressive. On the offensive end, this means driving to the basket with greater confidence and efficiency, which Tatum has improved upon tremendously since the early portion of the season.
During the first month and a half of the campaign, Tatum shot just 38.2 percent on 5.8 driving field goal attempts per game. Since Dec. 1, however, he has shot 50.5 percent on 6.5 driving FGA per game. Such an increase in efficiency has also helped to open up more opportunities for Tatum’s teammates, as defenses are more prone to collapse on him during his drives to the rim, which opens up more drive-and-kick opportunities.
While there has been plenty of focus on Tatum’s offensive dominance, his defensive contributions often go unnoticed. On that end of the floor, he uses his tremendous length and lateral quickness to disrupt passing lanes, which is why he ranks among the top 20 in the league in steals with just three fewer swipes than Marcus Smart.
Unlike many stars, Tatum rarely takes a play off on the defensive end. He’s always moving, he keeps his head on a swivel and he’s got a tremendous defensive IQ, as he knows when to provide help defense and when to stick with the shooter. As a result, he finds himself ranked eighth in the NBA in defensive win shares, according to Basketball Reference.
The most promising aspect about Tatum’s game is that it continues to improve in every area on both ends of the court. This season, he’s already made a leap into stardom, followed by another leap into superstardom. For all we know, he could have another leap in store for us once the season resumes inside the NBA bubble in Florida.
What we do know at this moment is that there is no limit to Tatum’s potential. He continues to blossom into one of the most special players to ever put on a Celtics uniform, and it’s happening right in front of our eyes.