Why Under Celtics Veteran’s Wing, Jayson Tatum is Thriving

Getty Images Marcus Smart of the Celtics and Kemba Walker

For some fans, Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart doesn’t get enough credit for everything he does on the floor, and for others, Smart’s effort is more than one can stomach.

But in the week the NBA crowns All-Star Jayson Tatum Eastern Conference’s Player of the Week, Smart is being highlighted for making things easier for his All-Star forward.

Tatum, who averaged 31.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assists last week while shooting at a 48.8% clip, including 38.9% from deep, guided the Celtics to 3-1 throughout that span. Headlined by his career-high 53-point performance in an overtime win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jayson’s once again put the league on notice.

According to The Athletic’s Jared Weiss, Smart has a lot to do with that.


Weiss On Marcus Smart’s Influence: ‘That Connection Is At The Core Of Tatum’s Scoring Run Of Late’

After the Daniel Theis trade, Tatum was having to change the angles in which he would attack during pick-and-roll sets with Robert Williams and Tristan Thompson.

However, Smart, who returned from a torn calf muscle last month, offers a comfortable alternative. As Weiss points out, Marcus’ screens have helped free Tatum off-the-dribble, thus granting more space for the All-Star to beat his defender.

“That connection is at the core of Tatum’s scoring run of late,” Weiss wrote via The Athletic. “Compared to their first 11 games together after the All-Star break, Tatum has received 6.9 more passes per game and 1.9 assists per game from Smart over this recent 5-1 April stretch, per Second spectrum. Smart threw 31.4 percent of the passes Tatum received in April so far, 11.6 percentage points higher than over that post-All-Star phase in which the Celtics went 4-8 in 12 games to close out March.”

At that time, it was the best basketball we’d ever seen out of Tatum. Just before the NBA suspended to regular season due to COVID-19, he was evolving into a superstar and now it’s the same approach, attitude, and drive that we’re seeing in Jayson, of late.

He’s even getting to the free-throw line at a consistent rate. Against the Timberwolves, the sheer tenacity catapulted Tatum to career-best 15-of-16 attempts from the charity stripe — representing career-highs in both free-throws made and in attempts in a single game. He then followed that up by going a perfect 8-for-8 against the Denver Nuggets, Sunday evening.


Weiss On Marcus Smart’s Impact On Jayson Tatum: The Relationship Goes Both Ways’

But getting to the line isn’t the only part of Jayson’s game that’s shown improvement. In fact, Tatum’s passing is a facet that’s continued to get better throughout the course of the regular season. Especially when it comes to returning the favor to a familiar face in the backcourt.

“The relationship goes both ways, as Tatum is passing it to Smart 5.8 times more often per game and Smart is shooting 8.3 percentage points better from deep,” Weiss added. “Even in a handoff scenario when the defense isn’t spread apart, the threat that both players can burst off the dribble creates some moments when the defense may make a mistake and miscommunicate on a potential switch or coverage.”

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