It’s awards season at Celtics.com! We’re handing out six awards throughout mid-October as we roll through this year’s Celtics.com Awards Series. We may not have trophies or acceptance speeches, but we do have some top-flight Celtics performances to outline. Here we go...
BOSTON – The voices of Celtics Nation were heard. They just might not be in agreement with those from this side of the screen.
Boston’s fan base overwhelmingly voted Jayson Tatum as this year’s Sharpshooter Award winner by giving him 58.7 percent of the 20,465 total votes. Jaylen Brown finished second with 25.7 percent of the votes.
While it can be argued that Tatum’s season deserved this award, we here at Celtics.com voted for the player who finished third in the fan poll: Kemba Walker. We’ll explain why later in this article.
For now, however, let’s concentrate on the story behind Tatum’s runaway victory, which marks his second award through the first four installments of our series.
Tatum was the MVP of Boston’s season thanks in large part to his stellar shooting. He was not only the team’s most efficient 3-point shooter, but he was also its most proficient 3-point shooter.
Tatum led the Celtics in both 3-point percentage (40.3 percent) and in 3-point makes (189). Those 189 makes accounted for the most by a Celtics player during the regular season since Isaiah Thomas canned a franchise-record 245 treys during the 2016-17 season.
Behind Tatum the two categories were Gordon Hayward, who finished two full percentage points behind Tatum at 38.3 percent from downtown, and Walker, who made 180 3-pointers on the season.
There is yet another level to dive into to showcase just how adept Tatum was at scoring from behind the arc. He was elite at shooting pull-up 3s – so elite, in fact, that he led the league in efficiency on such shots among the 19 players who attempted at least 200 of them on the season.
Tatum made 124 of his 307 such attempts, good for a 40.39 percent clip. That mark landed just ahead of Damian Lillard’s rate of 40.37 percent atop the leaderboard.
One area in which Tatum can improve his efficiency next season falls inside the 3-point arc, and that is at the free-throw line. He shot 81.2 percent from the line this season, a quality mark, but the sixth-best rank on the team. Still, he led Boston in both free throw makes (254) and attempts (313) on the season.
With his level of marksmanship, all three of those numbers could very well improve next season.
That is the long and very convincing case for why Tatum should be this year’s Sharpshooter Award winner. Now it’s time to look at the other side of the argument.
Before diving into Walker’s case, it must be noted that he was limited to 56 games this season due to left knee soreness that began to affect his play and availability in mid-January. Walker was on pace to obliterate the franchise record for made 3s in a season before missing time due to the injury.
As previously noted, Walker finished just behind Tatum in total 3s this season with 180. However, he actually led the team in made 3s per game with an average of 3.2. Had walker played in as many games as Tatum – 66 – and maintained his average of made 3-pointers per game, he would have made 211 on the season compared to Tatum’s 189.
Let’s take this “what if” a bit further. What if Walker’s knee soreness never happened and he continued to play at the level he did prior to missing his first game of the season due to knee soreness? The answer is that he would have blown past Thomas’ franchise record of 245 made 3s.
Prior to missing his first game due to knee soreness Jan. 18, Walker was averaging 3.5 made 3-pointers per game. Equating that out to 76 regular-season appearances, which is the number of games Thomas played in during his record season, would have resulted in 266 3-point makes on the season for Walker – 27 more than Thomas’ record.
Now clearly, this is all hypothetical, but it goes to show just how sharp Walker was shooting from long range for the first 40 games of Boston’s season. That cannot be ignored, and neither can his continued success thereafter.
To further Walker’s case, he was also stellar from the mid-range and from the free-throw line.
While most of the NBA has slowly veered away from the mid-range game, Walker has not, and for good reason. He shot far better than the league average from five of the six mid-range quadrants that border the free-throw line and elbows, as is evidenced in the image to the right. Shots from those locations are typically inefficient for the far majority of the league, but for Walker, they’re almost layups.
Walker also ranked second on the team in free throw percentage among players who attempted at least 35 free throws, at 86.4 percent. That rate that trailed only Brad Wanamaker’s league-leading average of 92.6. Walker converted on 209 of his 242 freebies on the season.
Clearly, there are convincing cases to be made both for Tatum and for Walker with regard to deserving the Sharpshooter Award. Hayward and Wanamaker should garner some attention as well.
While we at Celtics.com voted for Walker, the majority has spoken loud and clear. This year’s Sharpshooter is Jayson Tatum.