Everyone knows Jayson Tatum is an incredibly gifted scorer, but the star forward showed during the Boston Celtics’ first-round sweep of the Brooklyn Nets that he’s fully capable of being a dominant two-way force.
Tatum was, and is, a key component of Boston’s smothering defense, which shut down Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Round 1 thanks in large to the Celtics’ collective size and versatility.
Celtics head coach Ime Udoka deserves a ton of credit for setting the tone. So, too, does Marcus Smart, who recently was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Ditto for Jaylen Brown (an excellent perimeter defender), Robert Williams III (a dynamic rim protector) and Al Horford (in many ways the glue that holds everything together).
But don’t sleep on Tatum’s impact on that end of the floor. He just might be the Celtics’ most valuable offensive and defensive player.
Consider this nugget from The Athletic’s Sam Amick in a piece published Tuesday:
“According to one of the rival scouts with whom I spoke, his team’s defensive analytics of opposing players indicate that Tatum is the best defender on this Celtics squad that is chock full of them.”
In other words, as Amick notes, Tatum graded out even better than Smart, Brown, Williams and Horford.
Of course, we don’t know the specifics of the anonymous scout’s analytics. And even then, defensive metrics are tricky. Oftentimes, the numerical evaluation of a player’s defense doesn’t match the eye test, for better or worse, and we’re therefore left with mostly subjective debates.
Still, it’s hard to dispute that Tatum has made significant strides, both offensively and defensively. And it’s becoming nearly impossible to argue against him being one of the very best two-way players in the NBA, responsible for playing a lead role in Boston’s current playoff success.