Jayson Tatum finally is big enough to carry his team on his back.
Former NBA player Steven Smith has identified the Boston Celtics forward’s improved ball-handling and added bulk as the two biggest reasons for his ascent to stardom this season. Tatum averaged 30.3 points on 50 percent shooting to go along with 7.2 rebound and 3.0 assists in the Celtics’ first 10 games in February, and his latest stellar performance helped Boston beat the Utah Jazz and improve its record to 9-2 this month.
Smith explained Tuesday on NBA TV why he believes Tatum will warrant All-NBA consideration at the end of this season.
“… All of a sudden this year, even before he went on this run, I saw what he added to his suitcase: … His handles, his relentlessness to get to the bucket without getting off balance, because (when) he was young, he wasn’t able to take the bump. When he got there, he was never afraid, that’s what I love about him, but he’d be off-balance a lot. Now he’s on balance, he’s taking angles and he wants to punish you right now.
“Before he was young, and he’s still young. At his young age he wanted to just score. It was new to him. I didn’t see him having that green light at Duke. There it’s kind of a system basketball, and you play within the system. Now, he’s saying ‘I am the alpha. I am the guy and can create my own shot.’ Or He can also play off picks, and that’s difficult for a young guy not to try to go for it every play.”
Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Tatum and Kemba Walker are Boston’s four highest per-game scorers and have shouldered the scoring burden on any given night for most of the season. However, Tatum, who leads the team with 23.3 points per game, has taken over lately, particularly in Walker’s absence. Tatum looks set to seize the “alpha” mantle, and we’re pretty sure that won’t bother any of his teammates.
Tatum earned his first selection to the NBA All-Star Game this season, and observers now are debating whether he has entered the superstars’ ranks. A place on the All-NBA team only would strengthen his case for inclusion.