The playoffs get the best of everyone. The pressure is at a high and everyone’s game is on-call every single minute, so it’s a stage that turns up-and-comers into stars, and stars into superstars. That means it goes both ways, though: anyone’s status can be downgraded in a snap.
Jayson Tatum and Paul George, stars of the Boston Celtics and LA Clippers, respectively, are currently on the opposite sides of that playoff pressure spectrum. The former is making his name shine brighter and brighter, and the latter is not doing that because he’s already on vacation.
All that has led to some rumblings among team executives, as one anonymous general manager from the Western Conference believes that Tatum is already better than George.
Here’s what that GM said to HoopsHype:
“[Jayson Tatum is] a two-way player who’s better than Paul George … He can get to the basket, shoot three-pointers off the dribble, and he guards the best perimeter player.”
Let’s first look at the two stars’ seasons:
This is Tatum’s first year getting free’d from the ‘shackles’ of playing with a high-scoring, ball-demanding point guard like Kyrie Irving, and he immediately had a breakout season. He finished the 2019-20 campaign averaging 23.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals, and 2.9 threes per game, all of which are career-highs. That deservingly got him his first All-Star and All-NBA (third team) selections.
The 22-year-old had a particularly stellar month between early February and March. In an 11-game stretch, he put up 31.5 points, and 4.5 threes on 50% shooting, which included 41, 39, and 36-point performances against the top-ranked defenses in the league (Clippers, Jazz, and Lakers).
More of the same are happening in the playoffs. Tatum is logging 25-10-4 in 14 postseason games thus far, and, as the GM put it, he’s doing work on both ends of the floor.
George, on the other hand, had a somewhat riddled season. He came off an injury and entered a situation where he was playing behind a handful of players who will take plenty of scoring opportunities away from him. It’s unlike anything he’s ever been a part of since becoming an All-Star – while with the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder, he mostly played as either the 1A or 1B option, with no other teammate being close behind, and was even third in MVP voting in 2019.
He still did well in the regular season, logging in 21.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.4 SPG, 3.3 3PG.
It was the playoffs that really got him good, especially since he made himself a target after claiming the nickname “Playoff P.”
“Playoff P” was “Pandemic P” and “Way-off P” as he just kept having bad shooting nights and questionable play overall. George shot 40% or worse in seven of his 13 playoff games this season, and it included a three-game stretch where went an appalling 10-for-47 (21.3%) from the floor. When they blew that 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets, he was 4-for-16 for 10 points (0 in the fourth quarter) in Game 7.
So, which is it? Facts or recency bias?
Considering all that will make you lean towards recency bias. It’s just a bad time to be Paul George right now. Like I’ve said in the intro, the playoffs are where player statuses get upgraded and downgraded, and George got dealt with the latter, big time.
While Tatum is all set to be the next big marquee talent in the league, I believe the gap between him and PG13 will be much closer again by next season. Don’t get me wrong, though: he’ll feel the wrath of the choke until he can prove himself.