NBA Execs Weigh in on Celtics’ New-Look Jayson Tatum: ‘There’s a Process’

Jayson Tatum, Celtics

Getty Jayson Tatum, Celtics

What had been a fairly steady career progression for Celtics star Jayson Tatum appears to have found the accelerator in the last couple of months.

He’s been a bona fide scorer since he first appeared on the scene in 2017, able to find and make shots in difficult situations. But there were hints of trouble when he began controlling the ball more and putting himself into those hard spots.

Coaches and even teammates asked for more ball movement and cutting to benefit both him and the larger Celtic enterprise. And what we’ve seen of late is no less than the realization of that request — and the results they said would follow.

While his efficiency numbers dipped early in this season, Tatum has augmented his improving percentages by becoming an assassin with the pass. He’s getting to the lane and finding mates for layups, dunks and open jumpers.

“It was getting a little tough there for a while,” a source from an opposing club told Heavy.com. “As much as he was keeping them in games with his scoring, he was killing them, too. The ball just stuck in his hands, and we all loaded up on him. They were so stagnant.”


‘He’s Become More Complete’

Though the Celtics have still had momentary struggles as a group in that regard, there has been a major change that has led them to a 20-6 record after the first week of January. It may be a bit of a chicken-egg question as to which came first, better defensive effort or more sharing of the ball (we might lean toward the former), but Tatum has been in the middle of the renaissance.

“He’s become more complete,” said a league GM. “I mean, Kevin Durant didn’t win hardly any games in the first two years of his career (20-62 and 23-59). I just think there’s a process.”

He went on to include Jaylen Brown in the conversation.

“They’ve been surrounded by good players, and there’s been an evolution of becoming very important players in a conference championship series in three out of four years to then being THE two guys — to being the very best of that group,” he said. “I’m not sure that makes them more resistant to change; it’s just a bigger adjustment. Like people are going to prevent you from do what you’re good at. So being able to have your game evolve is the key.”


Tatum Has Gone Through a ‘Process’

The GM then focused on Tatum and this season.

“Like I said, it’s all a process, and you can see it in the last few months,” he said. “Tatum went from wanting to go to the rim more when the season started to not getting calls with all the new rules this year (allowing more contact) and kind of struggling. He wasn’t even finishing at the rim. He was shooting under 40 percent at the rim early in the season.

“So that evolved into shooting more 3’s, and that was a disaster. After a while he was missing wide open ones. Now he’s playing more of a complete game. But people have always known he’s a way, way better player than he was playing.”

It’s helped both Tatum and Brown that they’re playing more off the ball, running off picks to get open and taking advantage of the defensive chaos their cutting can create.

“That’s what Curry and Thompson have grown up their whole lives doing,” one league coach told Heavy.com. “Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have grown up playing with the ball in their hands all the time like Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant and that generation of players. And that’s all they know. So getting them to make sacrificial runs is hard.

“That’s a way bigger task than anybody can imagine, because it’s not in their innate nature of how they play basketball — unlike Steph and Klay and guys like that, who grew up playing that way. It’s a whole different mindset.”

Now, however, as Tatum celebrates just his 24th birthday, he — and Brown — have wrapped their minds around the need to play different ways at different times, as the situation dictates. And the effect on the Celtic season has been striking.

 

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