One would expect a 24-year-old prodigy to improve incrementally in each of his early NBA seasons, but Jayson Tatum’s stride forward in the early weeks of 2022-23 is pronounced enough to risk pulling a muscle.
And that’s a large statement for someone who was first-team All-NBA last year and finished sixth in MVP balloting.
The Celtics forward is currently fifth in the league in scoring at 31.2 points per game (just 2/100ths behind Donovan Mitchell), 4.3 points better than last season’s average, as he’s led the club to a 7-3 start.
The NBA’s resident Jayson Tatum expert believes his mind game has shown the most improvement, but even that idea has a corresponding stat to offer support.
Bradley Beal used to occasionally babysit Tatum back in St. Louis, when his mother was Jayson’s mom’s volleyball coach. Clearly the kid has matured.
“I think it’s just his mentality more than anything,” the Wizards star told Heavy Sports, “just having a mental approach of being the best player on the floor when he steps out there. I mean, you can see it. It’s not hard.
“He’s always going to continue to grow and elevate his game. He’s always going to continue to expand. But it’s his mentality. As you can see, his mental approach and his aggression in the game is way different this year.”
That’s been evident at the stripe that sits 15 feet from the hoop. Tatum is attempting 8.9 free throws per game through the Celtics’ first 10. That’s 4.4 more than over the first five years of his career and 2.7 a game more than last year.
Tatum has admitted the Finals loss to Golden State pushed him to work harder in the offseason, and it appears to have had a similar effect now that the games have begun. Seeing the Warriors celebrate at the Garden after Game 6 of the championship series stung.
“I’m sure it did,” Beal said. “He definitely took it to heart, as he should. I know when we did talk about it, he was very frustrated. It’s just motivation now. It’s motivation for him to come out and do what he’s been doing for these first games.
“The majority of the time in the offseason, we’re usually in L.A. together working out, but I was cooped in D.C. with the birth of my son, so that takes precedent over everything. We stayed in contact for sure, but for the most part he’s developing into his own man, his own player. You know, obviously I give him a little advice, but not much. He knows what his game needs and what he wants and where he wants it to go.”
Thank You for Not Tanking (Ahem)
The NBA has for years enjoyed the exposure their future stars get from broadcasts of their college games. It was even more the case when players would stay in college longer and teams could sell tickets off drafting a famous guy.
It therefore seemed logical when the league announced it would be airing all of top prospect Victor Wembanyama’s games in France’s top league.
But some execs see it as a bit of a reach.
Said one NBA general manager, “You know what I think it hilarious? The NBA goes out of its way to discourage tanking and try to get people to stop talking about tanking and all that. Then they go out and put all of Wembanyama’s games on the NBA app for free. I mean, what do they think is going to happen? If a team is no good, all their fans are going to be talking about tanking to get this guy. It’s pretty funny.”
Harsh Assessment of Lakers Situation
Laker schadenfreude is fast becoming one of the most popular activities among NBA types. A number of people don’t seem to be bothered at all by the club’s demise.
I have to believe some of it is based in jealousy for all the Lakers’ success over the years, but I’m hearing some pretty harsh stuff.
For example, one league executive was in “I told you so” mode in his latest conversation with Heavy Sports.
“My point always was that these guys had no f***ing clue. I said, when the old man dies and Jerry West leaves and a real professional like Mitch Kupchak leaves the Lakers, that you’re gonna see the fastest freefall of a legacy franchise you’ve ever seen,” the longtime exec said. “That’s exactly what happened. So they managed to pull LeBron in and got involved with him and Klutch, and he came in and got them a championship in the bubble. That’s it. After that, there’s no more championships.
“Look where they are now and tell me when the hell they’re going to have a chance to compete for a championship again.”
I repeat, harsh.