Is Jayson Tatum peaking or have we witnessed the birth of a superstar?
That’s a question The Ringer’s Dan Devine posed Thursday in his “Third-Quarter Awards” column, in which he named the Boston Celtics forward the “Most-Improved Player of the Quarter” based on his recent performances. Tatum averaged averaged a team-high 30.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocked shots last month, helping Boston earn a 9-3 record in the month and earning himself the NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Month award for February.
Here’s why Devine believes Tatum deserves the most-improved-player honor:
“Tatum is driving to the rim more, finishing at a higher clip, and getting to the foul line nearly twice as often as he did through the first half of the season,” Devine wrote. “While defenders worry about him getting to the rim, he’s found more room and opportunities to pull up for jumpers, canning 45.7 percent of them, and nearly 47 percent from long distance. He’s become an absolute terror of a three-level scorer, all while defending four positions at a high level. (He’ll even take a turn on some 5s, pulling spot duty on the likes of Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, and Nikola Jokic when called upon, according to NBA.com’s matchup data.)
“It’s not like Tatum wasn’t good before this; hell, I picked him as an All-Star reserve based on his performance before the surge, not what came after it. To jump up this much during the season, though, is truly wild. One minute, he’s a pile of enticing tools who produces a lot, but is also prone to some occasional foibles and miscues. The next minute, he’s … I don’t know, a 6-foot-8 Adrian Dantley who is a deadeye from deep? Glen Rice, but Make It All-Defense? Not Kevin Durant or Tracy McGrady, but damn, also not nearly as far from those sorts of comparisons as anyone would’ve expected two months ago?”
Which brings us to the essential question about Tatum, who turned 22 earlier this week.
“The question now is whether this is Tatum riding the hottest streak of his career, or if it’s something like the bleeding edge of his new normal,” Devine wrote. “If it’s the former? Well, savor the flavor while it lasts, Celtics fans. If it’s the latter? We might be watching the real-time arrival of a bona fide superstar.”
Tatum scored 32 points Wednesday in the Celtics’ win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, increasing his impressive batch of 30-plus-point outings to eight in his last 11 games and 13 on the season.
His emergence into an NBA superstar is among the most notable aspects of the Celtics’ 2019-20 campaign, but Devine won’t learn the answer to his question until 2021 or beyond.