There’s no doubting that Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum had the look of a franchise player very early in his career. Mere weeks after his 20th birthday, Tatum was leading his team — which was without its key offseason acquisitions in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward — to the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals.
As good as he was, though, there were clearly areas where he needed improvement. In particular, his infatuation with long twos — even as he had shown an ability to score from multiple levels — was something that made the analytics crowd cringe on a regular basis.
Over his first two years in the Association, Tatum attempted 18 percent of his shots from 16 feet away from the hoop to just inside the three-point line. He did this in spite of the fact that he connected on just 38 percent of those attempts.
Meanwhile, his efficacy at getting buckets closer to the tin was simply OK for a player of his size.
However, Tatum has slowly flipped the script as he has gained more experience. And this season, he’s attacking the hoop better than ever before. As a result, he suddenly has the look of an elite-level finisher, particularly over the last month.
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Tatum Switches Things Up
Before the 2020-21 season, driving to the basket had been a part of Tatum’s offensive game, but never its focal point. Per NBA.com’s tracking data, his drives per game numbers shake out as follows for his first three years in the league:
|Year||Drives per game|
Tatum clearly began making big strides in this department last season, but he has been more apt to drive with the ball than ever before in ’20-21. So far this season, he is attempting a team-leading 12.4 drives per contest.
However, his ability to actually convert when he is closer to the tin is probably more important than when and how he chooses to attack it. And the difference in those numbers through the years is equally eye-popping.
Over his first three years in the league, Tatum’s field goal percentage within three feet of the hoop bounced around the mid-60s. This year, he’s up to an impressive 72.5 percent shooting from 0-3 feet.
Recently, he has been particularly good in the restricted area of the paint. Since April 1, he has made 78 percent of his shot attempts in the restricted area.
Oh, and about those long twos — less than nine percent of his shots have come from that range over the last two seasons. Meanwhile, his three-point attempt rate is approaching 40 percent in ’20-21 after he similarly fired away from deep last year.
Given the trends of today’s NBA, the bump in his long-range shooting may stand out more. However, Tatum’s growing ability to finish near the hoop and increased willingness to drive have been major factors in his incredible offensive growth this season.
Tatum Pays Young Teammate a Huge Compliment
After the Celtics’ 120-111 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, Tatum — who had just dropped 35 points — left little mystery about how highly he regards teammate Rob Williams.
“Rob’s easily probably my favorite person to play with,” he said, “Just the energy he brings, his presence, all the little things he does on the floor.”
Tatum endorsing Williams in such a way is undoubtedly a feather in the young big man’s cap. However, the fact that he called him his “favorite” on the same night that Brown joined Tatum in scoring 35-plus points — making them the first Celtics teammates in 15 years to do so in the same game — definitely adds to the sentiment.
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