Celtics’ Ainge Projects Tatum’s Career Trajectory


Getty

Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum shoots the ball during a game against the Charlotte Hornets.

In spite of everything that has gone down with the Boston Celtics this year — COVID-19 infections, injuries, underperformance and more losses than anyone would have predicted — good vibes are back in Beantown. Jayson Tatum just dropped another 50-piece.

Of course, the boo birds and naysayers will return in force when/if Boston gets throttled in its playoff matchup with the Brooklyn Nets. For now, though, Tatum has brought Celtics Nation together to marvel at his latest epic scoring feat.

In leading the Cs to a blowout win over the Washington Wizards, Tatum racked up the big five-oh on 32 shots and went a perfect 17-of-17 from the free-throw line. He also added eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks; his team outscored the opposition by 25 when he was on the floor.

The end result of his outburst was Boston’s clinching of the No. 7 seed, but Tatum also made history with the effort. According to Stathead, only Wilt Chamberlain and Rick Barry had more 50-point games in a single season at Tatum’s age or younger.

With the 23-year-old putting himself in the same category as two Hall of Famers, it begs the question of whether or not he’ll have a HOF-worthy career when it’s all said and done.

For his part, Celtics GM Danny Ainge thinks the answer is an obvious one.

The latest Celtics news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Celtics newsletter here!
Join Heavy on Celtics!


Ainge: Tatum Will Be a ‘Hall of Fame Player’

☘️ Jayson Tatum drops 50 POINTS in play-in game ‼️ | NBA HighlightsIn the No. 7 vs. No. 8 play-in game, Jayson Tatum led the Boston Celtics to a 118-100 win vs. the Washington Wizards by scoring a ridiculous 50 points. Tatum went 17 of 17 from the free-throw line. #NBA #Sports #NBAHighlights2021-05-19T03:47:10Z

On Thursday, Ainge made his weekly appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich. As per usual, the team’s architect touched on a number of subjects — including his own future with the franchise.

While the appearance was packed with sound bites, his appraisal of Tatum definitely stands out. Asked point-blank if he felt that Tatum was a top-10 player league-wide “right now,” Ainge worked to avoid rendering a clear verdict.

“I haven’t gone through the whole league, but he’s right in that category,” he said. “He’s in there somewhere. He’s definitely a top player, a top-echelon player.”

He further indicated that the former No. 3 overall pick had been better than he anticipated.

“He has exceeded expectations from when we drafted him,” Ainge said. “I knew he was going to be a good young player, but all the great ones are.”

Further probed about whether he believed that Tatum could be an MVP-level player, Ainge again balked, not wanting to place those expectations on him. However, he then proceeded to place a perhaps equally daunting label on him.

“I think it’s easy to see now that Jayson Tatum is going to be a Hall of Fame player,” Ainge said.

“I don’t think anybody doubts any of that. But I hate to give him those kind of accolades because I’d like to try to push him to work harder, and meet their goals. And I don’t want him to get complacent.”


Elite in Year Four

One could debate Tatum’s merits as a top-10 player, MVP candidate of future HOFer, but one thing is certain — in year four, he is already firmly among the league’s elite.

Tatum averaged 26.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.2 steals per contest this season. Only two other players put up commensurate lines this season — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic. In other words, the reigning, two-time NBA MVP and the player most likely to capture the honor for 2020-21.

In fact, only 31 such seasons have been logged in the history of the Association. Clearly, if he continues to perform at such a high level, Tatum’s HOF stock will become pretty difficult to ignore in short order.

READ NEXT: Who Had the ‘Most Encouraging’ Season for the Celtics?