Tatum's Patience Pays Off as He Sees Significant Spike in Driving Efficiency

HOUSTON – Jayson Tatum is driving opposing defenses crazy, more so than ever before.

The keyword in that statement is “driving,” because that’s an offensive area in which Tatum has improved tremendously over the course of this 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, that number has rocketed all the way up to 52.2 percent on 6.3 driving FGA per game.

During that time span, Tatum ranks eighth in the NBA in driving efficiency among players who have shot with equal or greater volume. On that list, he sits behind an elite group of finishers which includes the likes of Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, DeMar DeRozan, Bradley Beal, Damien Lillard, Ja Morant, and Donovan Mitchell, respectively.

The difference from earlier in the season to now, Tatum explained to Celtics.com Monday afternoon, is that he’s “trying to be more patient, and just trying to be more under control when I go to the basket.”

Tatum’s positional coach, Jay Larranaga, has also taken note of his improved patience over time.

“I think he’s really doing a good job of preparing to score,” the Celtics assistant coach explained following Monday’s practice at Toyota Center in Houston. “Preparing to beat his man, create penetration, just all the things we’re trying to do offensively.

“He is doing just a much better job of moving without the ball, of setting his man up when he’s coming off of an off-ball screen, of setting up his man to use the screen in a pick-and-roll situation. So I just think he’s like all young players; it takes time to figure out the speed of the game and be patient and not skip steps. Especially when you’re so talented that you’ve been able to skip steps and still get away with it your whole life.”

Tatum understands that it’s much harder to skip steps in the NBA, so he’s had to adjust. In doing so, he’s noticed a big difference in the way he was finishing earlier in his career to the manner in which he is now.

“I feel like I was kind of rushing, trying to get it off too fast,” said Tatum, who on Monday earned the first Eastern Conference Player of the Week recognition of his career. “But playing off of two feet kind of helps out a lot. And just trying to be more under control.”

A great example of Tatum’s improved patience and control took place Sunday afternoon in Oklahoma City, where he pulled off one of the most impressive finishes of his young career to tie up the game early in the fourth quarter.

Take a look below.

“On a play like that, it demonstrates how he’s becoming more and more patient,” Larranaga said. “He came off a pick-and-roll, didn’t really get separation from his man, so he stopped, came off a second pick-and-roll, and then he was attacking Steven Adams downhill, and then a really spectacular finish.”

The multiple adjustments Tatum made on that play are what really stood out. He lost his first defender, Terrance Ferguson, momentarily on a crossover, was then able to split in between Ferguson and Adams at the beginning of his drive, and finally had enough body control to contort his way around Hamidou Diallo at the rim before finishing on an extremely tough angle.

“It’s nothing you can plan on,” he said of the instinctual approach he takes during such drives. “You’ve just gotta make quick decisions. That’s what we try to do as basketball players.”

Through his driving, Tatum also tries to open things up for his teammates.

“Most of the time when you drive, you can get a shot off, but sometimes the big converges so someone will be open for a kick-out or a drop-off or something like that,” he explained.

Added Larranaga, “His job is to make the game easier for all of his teammates. His job is to make the right decision on each play offensively and defensively. So when you have somebody that talented and that skilled with that kind of focus on just making the right play and making the game easier for his teammates, it’s really fun to be a part of.”

Unless you’re the opposing defense. In that case, Tatum is just going to drive you crazy.

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