If Jayson Tatum’s recent great leap forward isn’t the NBA’s longest, it certainly is among them.
The Ringer’s Dan Devine on Thursday tabbed the Boston Celtics forward tied for third on his list of picks to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award for the 2019-20 season. Devine credits Tatum’s emergence into an NBA superstar and Most Improved Player contender on his extended shooting range and increased aggression at both ends of the court.
“After a frustrating sophomore season in which he often settled for bad shots, Tatum exchanged a bunch of long midrangers (down from 22 percent of his shot diet last season to 13 percent this season) for more 3-pointers (up from 28 percent of his attempts last season to 34 percent this season), which he canned at a 39.8 percent clip,” Devine wrote. “He also started attacking the basket more often and more effectively, averaging nearly three more drives per game in the final two months of the season, improving his finishing inside the restricted area by more than eight percentage points, and getting to the free throw line two more times per game.
“Those advancements combined to make Tatum one of the second half?s most dangerous three-level scorers. It also made him one of the most balanced players in the league: Tatum routinely guards multiple positions at a high level, and played the most minutes on the Celtics? fourth-ranked defense (which allowed 5.2 fewer points per 100 when he played than when he was off the court). He also finished eighth in defensive win shares and 15th in defensive real plus-minus. The version of Tatum we saw in the first half of the season was good enough to be an All-Star; the one we saw in the second half was arguably a top-10 player.
Although Tatum’s rise was perhaps the biggest storyline of the Celtics season, Devine believes the New Orleans Pelicans’ Brandon Ingram is tied with the Celtics star in the Most Improved Player running, but both trail the Miami Heat’s Bam Adebayo (who is No. 2) and Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic, who is his runaway favorite for the award.