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How Has Jayson Tatum’s Game Evolved This Season?

| March 12, 2020 9:15 am PDT
How Has Jayson Tatum's Game Evolved This Season

The Boston Celtics have been a solid team for quite some time now, but they seem to be missing a key ingredient. The chemistry in the squad has always been good since Brad Stevens took over as coach in 2013. However, the team hasn’t made it to the NBA Finals in ten years.

This year, there is hope that things could be different. Although losing Kyrie Irving and Al Horford in the offseason, fans were encouraged by the addition of All-Star guard Kemba Walker and the return of the injured Gordon Hayward.

As expected, both Walker and Hayward have been key pieces for coach Stevens, but the big hope lies with 21-year-old Jayson Tatum.

The former Duke prospect was drafted 3rd in 2017 and has always been touted as a future star. His start to life in the NBA was good, but there was a sense that this guy could do much more.

Now as we have entered the business end of the 2019/20 regular season in the NBA, Tatum has truly shown he can be Boston’s superstar.

Fresh from an Eastern Conference Player of the Month award for February, the third-year wing is simply ripping opponents apart on both ends of the floor and has been doing it for quite a while now.

In this post, I look at how Tatum’s game has evolved this season and some reasons why Jayson Tatum is becoming a superstar in the NBA.

Taking Responsibility

This was always going to be needed. Prior to this season, Jayson Tatum was viewed as a promising young player with huge potential, but he was never considered a leader.

Maybe it’s a bit harsh to demand this from a teenager, but that’s life in the NBA for the hugely talented prospects.

Tatum struggled to assert himself as a key figure in the squad during Kyrie Irving’s stay there. He was happy to play second fiddle, and so were the rest of the players. The problem was that even when Kyrie was not playing, Tatum was still not taking enough shots.

This year, things on that front have changed. Tatum is proving far more efficient with Kemba Walker in the lineup, but what’s more important is that he is ready to step up when his point guard is not on the floor.

He is now capable of carrying the offensive load and is much more confident when he has to drive to the basket and create his own shot.

It’s still early to proclaim him as Boston’s MVP, but he has certainly made huge steps in his quest to transition from a young hopeful to an NBA superstar.

Team Chemistry

As I said in the beginning, chemistry has always been good since Brad Stevens took over the Celtics. Regardless of the pieces, the team sticks together on most nights and tries to do their best on both ends of the floor.

That hasn’t resulted in any titles, but it did keep the franchise in good health and with some interesting young pieces that could improve in time. However, the front office clearly decided to go for something else when they traded for Kyrie Irving.

Irving wanted to leave Cleveland because he needed to step out of LeBron’s shadow and be the number one guy somewhere. At the time, Boston was lacking both a superstar and a quality point guard, so the move made a lot of sense.

It would take a bit out of the collective responsibility on the court but would bring one of the best players in the league to lead the line and be there to mentor the young core.

Now, Kyrie Irving is a terrific player, and he improved Boston in a lot of ways. However, I feel like his quest to find а place where he has all the spotlight and can truly belong clouded his vision a lot.

Kyrie wanted to be THE guy, and because of his undeniable quality, it spilled over to the other members on the roster. Everyone was giving him the ball, and he was always the player to take the crucial shots.

With Kemba Walker on the team, things are looking very different. Kemba is much more team-orientated, and he has no problem simply being the provider on nights where other players are feeling it.

That has led to both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown improving their numbers on offense this season.

Simply put, Kyrie was just not the right fit. He still contributed, but there were also stretches when the team looked equally strong with Terry Rozier in the lineup. There seems to be a natural balance with Brad Stevens’ teams, and Kemba Walker is doing much more to preserve it, despite not being a better overall player than Irving.

Shot Selection

Arguably the biggest improvement for Tatum this season has been his shot selection. Even though he has received plaudits for his shooting during his rookie and sophomore years, he has also endured a lot of criticism on that front.

The main reason was his inconsistency. Tatum was hailed as the perfect all-around shooter in college. A new Paul Pierce who can take any shot from any distance and still pose good numbers.

That failed to materialize, though, and there were even long stretches where Tatum was one of the worst mid-range shooters in the league, although he was frequently shooting from there.

To be fair to him, a lot of that was down to Kyrie Irving and how he played for Boston. As I said, Kyrie was the main guy, and he had a lot of the ball and the license to take the shots he likes.

If Kyrie was well guarded, it was not uncommon for him to kick the ball out to Tatum and the rest, who would then have to take a low-percent shot.

Not having Kyrie around and building the belief that he can lead his team has completely transformed Tatum. He is not only more confident in taking shots, but his willingness to make iso plays against the league’s best players has been phenomenal.

Simply put, Tatum now has the freedom to make more easy shots but has also become much more efficient in situations where he was found lacking in previous years.

There is still room for improvement, of course, and there is still the question of whether he could keep it up in the postseason. However, it’s scary how much difference one summer of preparation and having the right personnel around you can make.

Improved Defense

Gregg Popovich once famously said that Jayson Tatum has the potential to match and exceed Paul George levels of basketball, but he had to concentrate more on his defending.

Tatum’s defense has been a highlight of his play ever since his college days. He was never dubbed as an elite defender at Duke, but his long arms, athleticism, and savvy movement on the court instantly made him a tough man to beat.

However, like most of the kids dreaming of becoming NBA superstars, Tatum was mainly focused on his offense in his first two seasons. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but for someone with the potential to become an elite all-around player, it seemed like a waste.

I was always confident that Brad Stevens would be able to get through to Tatum at some point and make him believe that his defense is what can set him apart from other big starlets.

The player has obviously heeded those words as he has been much more active on the defensive end this year. He looks confident going against elites such as Kawhi Leonard and has proven he can be a match for them.

When asked about his goals in the summer, Tatum said he wanted to average 20 points a game and become an All-Star. Both have been achieved, but I feel that a large part of his improvement has come because of the realization that he should strive to become the best defender he can be if he is to maximize his huge potential.

Does Jayson Tatum Have an All-NBA Case?

The player is clearly on the rise, and having secured his All-Star spot this season, the next question is whether he has a realistic chance of clinching a place in the All-NBA teams this year.

So, here are my thoughts on the matter.

The two forward spots on the All-NBA First Team are certainly going to Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. They have been locked in an MVP race all season, and even if their form takes a slump down the stretch, I find it hard to believe that one of them may be missing out.

The All-NBA Second Team spots are harder to pinpoint, but I believe one of them will be for Kawhi Leonard. Although he hasn’t featured as much as other players have, Kawhi has been elite in almost every outing, and he does the job on both ends of the floor. It will be very hard to neglect him.

The other spot should be reserved for Anthony Davis. The Brow is enjoying the best basketball of his career alongside LeBron James, and the fact that he has adapted to life in LA quickly makes the Lakers one of the top championship contenders this year.

Even if by some strange decision Davis is voted in as center, Tatum is still not guaranteed a spot as he faces tough competition from Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, and Pascal Siakam.

Butler will probably get the nod, but there is a chance that he might be voted in as part of the backcourt. If that happens, it will be really hard to choose from the other three.

At the time of writing this, Tatum, Middleton, and Siakam have eerily similar records in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and turnovers.

If Boston clinches the second seed from the Raptors, it could go a long way for Tatum’s chances, but I still think Middleton is more likely to get it.

The Bucks’ number two has been so prolific and efficient that he could easily be a number one on most teams. On top of that, Bucks are on course of becoming one of the most dominant teams in the recent history of the NBA regular season.

So, yeah, it will be hard for Tatum to squeeze in, but the mere fact that we’re discussing the possibility means he has improved tremendously and will probably be in this bracket for years to come.

Final Words

Jayson Tatum is coming, people! He may not lead Boston to the NBA Finals or win any big individual accolades this year, but he’s definitely coming!

Let’s hope he can stay fit as he has the potential to turn into one of the best two-way stars in the league. Boston has struck gold with him, and credit to them for sticking by their choice and allowing the player to grow.

It looks like Kemba Walker is a much better teammate for him than Kyrie Irving was, and given how Jaylen Brown has also excelled this year, the Celtics have a vicious young core on their hands and one that can still improve a lot.

Of course, all of them will be judged on their postseason performances, so it’s early to say whether they can be successful, but the signs are quite positive.

I’m curious to know your thoughts on Jayson Tatum and how far he can go, so don’t hesitate to leave a comment below and join the debate.

And if you’re looking for more NBA content, head over to the NBA section of our sports blog.

Elias Wagner
Elias Wagner

Elias Wagner has been a soccer fan since he was a young boy. He still has a huge passion for the sport itself as well as betting on it and writing about it.

Outside of soccer, Elias also enjoys other sports including basketball, tennis, and snooker. He's been writing for GamblingSites.com since 2018.

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