Scoring is quite the common currency in the NBA, but only a select few have the ability to pour it on. Two or three points here and there are given at any point in time during the game, but when in bunches, they can change the complexion of a game.
For Jayson Tatum, scoring has never been an issue.
Over five seasons, Tatum has never averaged less than 13.9 points per game, shot below 45.3 percent from the field, and has made at least 35.3 percent of his 3-point attempts. Those in themselves are great achievements, especially when you consider that Duke Blue Devil has increased his shot attempts every year while defenses have become more attuned to him.
And yes, even after all that, it seems that Tatum has managed to take it to another level.
As it stands, Tatum’s scoring average of 31.9 points per game for this season will be a career-high by five points. Of course, scoring looks to be up as there are currently eight players averaging at least 30 points per game. That number could go up or down depending on how the 2022-2023 NBA Season plays out, but Tatum’s numbers stand out more given the third overall selection by the Boston Celtics in the 2017 NBA Draft is in a roster with Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Al Horford, and Malcolm Brogdon.
Anyone among Brown and Smart could have a big game, but Tatum has always had consistent scoring production coupled with clutch play. Tatum had a “quiet” double-double of 27 points and 10 rebounds in what was a come-from-behind 126-122 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Down by as many as 15 points in the latter half of the third quarter, Tatum and the Celtics chipped at the Thunder lead with a strong end to the third quarter and some big shotmaking. The three-time All-Star found ways to contribute on both ends of the floor, but that Tatum knew how and when to get open allowed Boston to rally and finish the game against OKC with the victory.
Creating space has been one of Tatum’s better qualities, partly because of how much he idolizes the late great Kobe Bryant (never mind that he played his entire NBA career with the Celtics’ archival Los Angeles Lakers). Even so, him finding open spots on the floor and contributing on offense through setting screens, making the right passes, and acting as the decoy adds more nuance to the 2022 All-NBA First Team selection’s offensive impact on the floor.
Defensively, the 2022 NBA Eastern Conference Finals MVP has never been that far from averaging either a steal or a block per game, but him staying with his man long enough for the rest of the defense to adjust has had a better impact because of how opposing teams would at times attack him on the defensive end. Tatum understands that individual talent won’t make for a successful defense alone, and working within the scheme would be a win-win situation.
As great as Tatum’s performances have been, one has to wonder how long he can sustain this level of play. The 24 year old second in the NBA in minutes per game at 37.5, and while he has missed less than 10 games in the last five seasons, Boston should ensure that the wear-and-tear of five consecutive NBA postseason appearances sprinkled with two stints with Team USA in the 2019 FIBA World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics won’t bite back. Add to that the fact that Tatum is fresh off an NBA Finals appearance and it will be interesting to see how the Celtics navigate through this season given how they would want to keep playing until June next year.
It can at times be hard to fathom that Jayson Tatum is in Year Six and may not even be done getting better. That’s how the greats make their mark on their teams and in the game of basketball; they never settle until the final buzzer sounds and the trophy is in their hands.