NOT A TRADE CHIP, A BUILDING BLOCK
When I was 19, I was just trying to figure out how to pay rent and tuition. At the same age, Jayson Tatum is proving he can play at a high level in the NBA despite still being in his teens. Plus, I can only assume has no problems paying bills on time. It’s easy to see Tatum is light years ahead of his peers, but hard to imagine what his ceiling might be.
“I don’t think water will find its level because I don’t think there’s a level with Tatum, because he’s so young. I think he’s untouchable. He has the potential, from what we’ve seen … to be a multi-time All Star in this league.” -Mike Gorman, Boston Celtics Broadcaster (reeling Tommy Heinsohn back in for over 30 years)
STRONG ROOKIE CLASS
Ben Simmons is better than anyone in this class right now, but he’s not exactly in this class. It’s almost a shame he’s considered a rookie. It’s robbing us of what is probably going to be an incredible race for second in the ROY running. This is a strong rookie class, with some guys showing star potential. Lottery picks like Donovan Mitchell, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr. and Tatum are showing the future of the league is in good hands. Others further down the draft board such as Kyle Kuzma, Jordan Bell & Dillon Brooks are a testament to the depth of the class. Plenty of other rookies are getting opportunities and showing signs of being contributors early in their careers.
Even without Simmons in the mix, Tatum would have a tough time winning the award. This is a strong class with the unique blend of depth to compliment the heavy hitters at the top. Donovan Mitchell has already had a 41 point game, something that hasn’t been done by a rookie since Blake Griffin in 2011. He was the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for December. Tatum winning the same award in the East over Simmons shows the race for ROY isn’t over yet.
At the end of the day, Tatum just doesn’t have a big enough role offensively to win the award. While it is increasing by the game, he won’t come close to the usage rate of Simmons (23.9) or Mitchell (27.6). Tatum is sitting at 17.7, but is also chipping in 4.9 win shares through 42 games, good for 13th in the entire NBA. This is where you can start to see the difference in Tatum and rookies on teams that aren’t winning. He is learning how to win from guys that have done it early in his career. This is something that can’t be overstated for his development. The sky really is the limit with this kid.
TAKING IT IN STRIDE
Stevens trusts Tatum despite his teenager status. Further, he wants the youngster in the game late, especially if it’s close. Some might say Stevens leaves him in so he can learn and get better. It’s also because he is one of the best options Stevens has at his disposal. The rookie has shown the ability to make the right play, and is starting to find his spots to be aggressive offensively. This has resulted in some big-time finishes at the rim in addition to his elite shooting from deep. He has been in the top 10 in 3pt% the entire season thus far. If Stevens is serious about upping Tatum’s touches in the second half of the season, teams could be in trouble. His efficiency might take a hit, but his overall production should be on the rise.
Tatum has been impressive late in games, and definitely has the clutch gene. His calm and collected approach towards life is unwavering in heated moments on the big stage. It’s rare for a rookie to have such a big role, especially in the 4th quarter on a talent-rich team. More impressively, his clutch time numbers are truly jaw-dropping. He has 45 points on 71% shooting in the last 5 min when the game is within 5.
“Some people have it and some people don’t. It’s just as simple as that. I think he’s pretty much shown that he can play, as people say, with the big boys at the end of the game.” -Kyrie on Tatum in the clutch
Further, he’s 3/4 in the last minute when the game is on the line. When the game gets hectic, it slows down for Tatum. Nothing seems to shake his confidence. After his recent Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month award, Stevens did his part to keep Tatum level-headed, not that he needed it.
“I sent him a text that there’s a lot of things that can derail forward progress.” -Stevens, when asked about Tatum’s achievement
WORK IN PROGRESS, BUT AHEAD OF SCHEDULE
Danny Ainge traded the #1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft fro the #3 pick and a future pick. After selecting Tatum 3rd overall, he stated he would’ve taken the Duke product at 1 if he didn’t make the deal. It was a risk, but he got his man. Still, the rookie has gone above and beyond what Ainge thought he was capable of already in his young career.
“We’ll see what minutes [Tatum] will earn. I’m not worried about how they will play when the lights go on. It will be unlikely that Jayson is Rookie of the Year because it will probably come from a team that starts their rookies and plays them 35 minutes a night.” -Danny Ainge, before the season started
A guy who should be a sophomore in college right now is instead beating out NBA vets for starting roles on the NBA’s best team. This wasn’t supposed to happen. He is already able to impact the game on both ends of the floor, and is contributing to winning on the highest level. Yet, he still has a long ways to go. What is sure to be a long and achievement-filled career has only just begun. The Tatum hype train, now far past Boston and still gaining steam, is running out of room for passengers.
“It will be four, five, six years before we see his best,” Ainge said. “The question will be how badly he wants to keep working to get better.”