The Celtics’ Jayson Tatum Is Not A Superstar (yet .)

Will Jayson Tatum fall into the rare sights of an NBA superstar?

Will Jayson Tatum fall into the rare sights of an NBA superstar?
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More than in previous seasons, these playoffs expose cheats masquerading as superstars. The long list – Donovan Mitchell, Zach LaVine, Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker. You can add Jayson Tatum to that list. After playing blitzkrieg during the Eastern Conference knockouts, his game fell through to the Finals. His .367 shot from the field was embarrassing and barely hit the 21.5 ppg average. Even worse, he shot 31.6 percent from two. Many people think that Tatum has reached superstar status this season. Instead, he fell victim to Andrew Wiggins’ defense. He ended his Game 6 losing streak on Thursday with 13 points with 6/18 shots, 7 assists, 3 rebounds and 5 turns.

Don’t bury the lead here – his 100-goal tally is the most any player has scored in post-season NBA history. His historical revenue output is best personified by his travel with 3:32 remaining in Game Six. After Tatum pitched the ball uncomfortably. He will end the game with five spins.

Of course, losing to this 3-time champion Warriors team is nothing to be ashamed of. But they beat game 1. And then they led 2-1 in the series, only to lose the home series by double digits in six games. They lose each game by two numbers in this sequence. And throughout it all, Tatum, at least the one we are familiar with, is nowhere to be found. For reference, he won 1-8 by two points in the second half of Game 6. He only won 18 points in the fourth quarter for the series with 24 percent shot.

It’s not just Tatum’s offense that’s troubling. His 25 goals in a streak is unacceptable and shows a lack of focus and decision-making often unprecedented for superstars. While Tatum is generally a strict man who rarely shows emotion on the pitch, his results on the field are immature. Too often, he tries to shoot his way out of a slump, preventing his teammates from attacking fluidity. He did this in games 1 (3-17), 3 (9-23) and 4 (8-23).

Celtics Coach Thoughts of Ime Udoka on Tatum?

“One thing he’s always done throughout the season is look at various averages and figure it out,” Udoka said. “He did that throughout the first few series. This is a difficult one. The very consistent team did a number of things to limit him and cost others. For him, it’s just about continuing to grow and understanding that you will witness this for the rest of your career. This is just a start.”

That Tatum, the Celtics’ undisputed best player, and on-court leader, wasn’t the leading scorer for the Finals is a testament to how unprepared he was to carry the team on the biggest stage. Instead, Jaylen Brown led the team in scoring with 23.5 ppg. Tatum was the leading scorer for every other series but couldn’t step up when it was needed most.

Tatum should be congratulated for turning the Celtics’ season around and getting them to the Finals. This was the best statistical season of his career. It’s tough as hell to win a championship without a bona fide All-Star level second option. Brown is good, but not great. Without another superstar on the team, the Celts needed Tatum to perform as advertised during the regular season and playoffs to have a puncher’s chance at beating the Warriors. In the 18 games of a playoff before the Finals, he averaged 27 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game, earning Eastern Conference finals MVP against the Miami Heat. There was no reason to expect that momentum not to continue.

Unfortunately, Wiggins was standing in his way. The Canadian reclamation project filled his playoff resume with lock-down assignments against Jarren Jackson Jr. and Luka Dončić. After an exhaustion series slowing down Dončić and shutting him down as a facilitator, Tatum had to look like barbecue chicken. That’s not to say Tatum is a pushover. He’s just not on Dončić’s level after the Slovanian wunderkind averaged 32 ppg, 9.2 rpg, and six apg in the Western Conference Finals.

Tatum’s historic choke might have been the most glaring case of fraudulent superstar activity of the 2022 season. And that’s saying a lot with Devin Booker’s WCF on the list. But Tatum was always a surer bet when it came to being the man. His poise, maturity, and shot selection made him the closest thing to Kobe Bryant we have in the league. Even Bryant had four airballs in crunch time as a rookie against the Utah Jazz in the 1997 Western Conference Semifinals.

The 24-year-old Tatum has been in the league for five seasons, and he’s gotten better every year by increasing his points, assists, and rebounds yearly. He’s made three straight All-Star Games and, even more impressive, First Team All-NBA this year. Tatum will have his turn. He’s just not there yet. These types of playoff losses eat at the soul of future champions. Ask Curry, Thompson, and Green, who lost under Mark Jackson before winning under Steve Kerr. In the not too far future, Tatum will be back in the Finals. The hope is that he returns a superstar. 

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