Through two games, Boston Celtics’ first team All-NBA forward Jayson Tatum is a -20 in plus/minus and is shooting 30 percent from the field with a TS% of 46.9. Not great numbers, but two games is the epitome of small sample size theatre. We also know how momentum and individual performances tend to fluctuate in a series. It’s usually last hot hand wins.
Nonetheless FS1 talking head Skip Bayless believes Tatum is nowhere near superstar status. Did media members jump the gun on anointing Tatum?
“Jayson Tatum is about 3,000 miles away from being a superstar,” said Bayless. “Tatum is shooting the worst 2-point percentage in the first 2 games in the history of the Finals since the shot clock era.”
"Jayson Tatum is about 3,000 miles away from being a superstar. Tatum is shooting the worst 2-point percentage in the first 2 games in the history of the Finals since the shot clock era." — @RealSkipBayless pic.twitter.com/pbKLDVlKm7
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) June 8, 2022
The short answer is no.
Tatum finished the season seventh in EPM and led the league in defensive win shares. He averaged 27 points, eight rebounds and four assists per game on 45/35/85 shooting splits. That’s excellent production.
The Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors are tied at one game apiece in the NBA Finals, so despite his lack of production his team was able to steal a game on the road. That’s probably a larger indicator of what type of series this will be, rather than Tatum’s shaky start to his first NBA Finals.
In the postseason, he’s averaging 26 points, six rebounds and six assists per game on 43/38/82 shooting splits. He was named Eastern Conference finals MVP. He’s a bit less efficient, but that’s what happens when you’re playing against the best defenses in the postseason.
Now, does Tatum need to play better to give the Celtics a better chance of winning the title?
In the Western Conference finals, Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr was afraid of Stephen Curry and Jordan Poole switching onto Dallas Mavericks’ star Luka Doncic. Rightfully so. So to prevent that, Curry and Poole would show early on Doncic ball screens and then race back to their man.
In the NBA Finals, Kerr is allowing Curry and Poole to switch onto Tatum and the Celtics’ forward is not punishing the mismatch.
As improved as Curry is defensively, and this is his best regular and postseason on that end of the floor, Tatum is a 6’9″ scoring machine. He can pull up for threes over the top of the shorter Curry, and while the Warriors’ two-time MVP is stronger than people think, Tatum should be able to go through him.
Poole is a very poor defender and Tatum should be in aggressive attack mode every time he sees the Warriors’ guard.
Tatum doesn’t need to play hero ball and jack up 30 shots. But he needs to be decisive when he has a mismatch and look to score or be aggressive on his drives and force the officials to make tough calls.
Part of Tatum’s struggles are he’s not adjusting quickly enough to how the games are being officiated. If he notices they refs allowing the Warriors to get handsy and extra physical, then he needs to meet that with his own force and physicality offensively. Don’t look to the officials after a non-call and allow the Warriors to go on a fast break while you’re arguing.
As to whether he’s a superstar or not Tatum, to his credit, he iis’t focused on that.
“I’ve seen there’s a huge debate: is he a superstar or is he not? I want to know where that came from. Did I tweet that? Did I ever say I’m a superstar, I’m on the verge? That never came from me,” Tatum said on Tuesday.
“It’s been a big deal this last year-and-a half or two years. I see it all the time. There’s always been a question in the back of my head, I wonder who spoke on my behalf or said that or why that was such a big deal.
“If you win a championship, they can debate a lot of things. They can’t debate whether or not you’re a champion. Obviously lost the other night. Just looking forward to bouncing back tomorrow. First Finals game at home, at the Garden. It’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to it, enjoying this experience.”
Tatum and the Celtics have been saying the right things all series. At the end of the day it is just basketball. They earned a split and stole home-court advantage. Now they need to defend home court in Boston, and it starts with their best player coming out and playing to the standard he holds himself to.