Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics are up 2-0 on the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the NBA playoffs. And while it’s been a team effort so far, led by the team’s incredible defense, Tatum’s star power is undoubtedly going to play a factor as they head deeper into the postseason.
At the beginning of the season, Tatum struggled mightily. Just like the Celtics, things were looking down for the All-Star forward through the end of January. However, just as he has in previous years, Tatum turned things up in the second half of the season.
From the start of February to the end of the regular season, Tatum averaged 28.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 5.0 assists while shooting 49.2 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from deep. He also strung together a barrage of big-time performances, highlighted by a 54-point bomb to lead the Celtics over the Nets and Kevin Durant’s 37 points.
All of this has led fans, social media, and NBA analysts to debate whether or not Tatum is a superstar. On the April 20 edition of ESPN’s First Take, Stephen A. Smith was arguing with Chris Russo over whether or not Tatum is a top-10 player in the league, to which Smith stated, “he’s in the conversation”:
You might give me 10 names, then he’d be 11. You might give me nine names, then he’ll be 10. You might give me eight names, then he’ll be nine. He’s in that conversation at age 24.
That prompted Russo to make an outlandish claim about Tatum.
Russo’s Bold Take on Tatum
Before Smith even made that argument, Russo pushed back against the idea. He said that he needs to “see a little more” from Tatum before he enters that conversation. Smith went on to make his argument, and once he finished, that’s when Russo made his wild statement:
You know who I think is as good as he is? [Brandon] Ingram.
Smith pushed back on this idea in a big way, though he did make sure to show Ingram some love, too. Ingram was drafted second overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, one year before Tatum entered the league. The two players are similar in the sense that they are long, lanky forwards, but that’s about it.
Ingram is also 24 years old, although he will be turning 25 in September while Tatum just turned 24 in March. Both were one-and-done stars at Duke in back-to-back seasons, too. Keeping Russo’s claim in mind, let’s take a look at how each player has performed over the course of their careers.
Tatum vs. Ingram Career Comparison
Through his first five years in the league, Tatum has averaged 20.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.0 assists while shooting 45.6 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from deep. In Ingram’s six years, he’s put up 18.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists while shooting 46.1 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from three-point range.
However, this season was a breakout year of sorts for each of the two stars. Despite his slow start, Tatum averaged career-highs in points, rebounds, and assists. Meanwhile, Ingram and the New Orleans Pelicans also got off to a slow start but were able to bounce back. Though his points and rebounding numbers were slightly down, Ingram set a new career-high in assists.
Tatum hasn’t missed the playoffs yet in his career, having been to two Eastern Conference Finals along the way. He came just one game away from the NBA Finals in his rookie year, too. For Ingram, this season marked his first trip to the postseason, as he led the Pelicans to two Play-In wins to nab the eighth seed.
That doesn’t necessarily reflect on their individual talents as players, as it takes more than just one player to win. Boston was very clearly a better situation than either Los Angeles or New Orleans, and Ingram had to deal with ever-changing rosters and coaching trees.
Russo’s claim is certainly a bold one, considering each player’s resume, but that’s why opinions are just that: opinions. Tatum and the Celtics are up 2-0 in their series while Ingram and the Pelicans find themselves down 2-1 to the Phoenix Suns. At only 24 years old each, it’s crazy to judge their careers already.