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Does Jayson Tatum need to ‘show up’?

An argument with myself.

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics - Game One Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Sometimes I will do research on a subject, and I will be unable to come to a definite conclusion. During these times I will get frustrated, eat Peanut M&Ms from the ‘family size bag’ until I fall asleep, wake up suddenly, hit my head on the Gundam model hanging from my ceiling and concuss myself. During these moments of temporary brain damage, I’m able to separate an argument into two parts and have that argument with myself. Today’s question is “Does Jayson Tatum Need To Show Up In This Series?”

Pro-Sam: Howdy folks, my name is Pro-Sam and today I’d like to convince you of two things: ‘There’s no reason to worry about Jayson Tatum’ and ‘Con-Sam should go suck an egg’.

Con-Sam: Hi, everyone. Con-Sam checking in here and I’m pretty nervous about Tatum’s performance in this series. Almost as nervous as I am that Pro-Sam will regularly eat peanut butter by hand when people aren’t looking. He’s terrible.

PS: Okay, dork. Let’s start with the obvious. Tatum is a starter on the team that has won two games in a series which, by the way, the Celtics still lead. We are talking about a 20-year-old rookie starting on a #2 seed and playing big playoff minutes. Regardless of what happens in the playoff series, a rookie showing this kind of poise and having the season that he just had is tremendous. Oh and by the way, he’s done stuff like this in the playoffs.

CS: See, that’s interesting that you just to bring up his scoring in this series, because he has the worst FG% of any Celtic who has averaged more than 10 MPG this series. In fact, the lethal three-point shooting we’ve come to expect from the rookie hasn’t been there either as he is barely ahead of Shane Larkin at 25% from downtown. Obviously we are dealing with a small sample size of three games, but with Al Horford commanding the attention of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton similarly preoccupied with Jaylen Brown, Tatum is often covered by Malcom Brogdon or Tony Snell. He has to make the Bucks pay for that.

For example, here, Tatum gets past Snell only but seems rattled by the closing Giannis.

If he can’t find a way to win that matchup, I just don’t think the Celtics have much of a shot in this series.

PS: Are we sure he’s not winning that matchup? Sure the offensive stats haven’t been there for Tatum, but don’t get it twisted, Snell is 10-8-1 for the series. Conversely, Jayson has been monstrous on the glass for the Celtics and actually leads the team in rebounding. You know what else Tatum leads this team in? Steals! Those turnovers were a big reason that the Celtics were able to get out to such a good start in Boston. Check out this TPA quadrant from @NBAMath on Twitter.

Take a peek a the defensive value axis and you’ll see that Tatum has reinvented himself this series in the Marcus Smart “do everything but score” role.

CS: I’d just like to point out you are suggesting that a top 3P% player in the league suddenly profiling like Smart is a good thing.

The rebounding is well and good. The Celtics were excellent on the glass in game three and Tatum had the second most rebounds of anyone in the game. They still lost that game. Rebounding the ball doesn’t do a lick of good if you are going to hand your opponent high-percentage shots at the rim in transition. Turnovers are obviously huge part of that, but struggling offensively is another way. Milwaukee blocked 13 shots, and that’s something else that can’t get the Bucks going in transition, which is exactly what happened here.

It’s easy to say the Celtics need to do things like rebound the ball, but the Celtics actually had more FGA than the Bucks in game three and shot 13 more FT. It’s not a matter of how many possessions the Celtics can get right now. Instead, it’s about who is having an easy time on their possessions and right now, that’s the Bucks. If it were a totally halfcourt game the Celtics might stand a chance of out-executing them, but that’s not what happened in Game 3. The Celtics need made buckets not only to help their scoring, but to give them a chance to set their defense against a hellacious Bucks transition game. I think Tatum is the logical guy to look to for that in Game 4.

PS: Is Tatum capable of performing better offensively? Almost certainly.

But I think that demanding that he suddenly impose himself on the offense misunderstands what he’s doing out there. If anything, it’s tremendously exciting to see Tatum adding so much positive value to playoff games off-ball, because that’s probably where he is going to be when Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving return to this team next year. I understand why this looks ugly when Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris are struggling, but I don’t want him to lose those contributions in order to try to start something outside of the offense. I think it’s a lot easier to ask Marcus Morris or Terry Rozier to put the ball in the hoop than contribute the blocks, steals, and rebounds Tatum is pouring on.

CS: Only you could could make a prized offensive rookie doing nothing on the offensive end sound like a good thing. Come on, it’s not like he can’t score AND do all those other things!

PS: He’s a rookie! He’s 20 years old!

CS: This team is missing two All-Stars. Everyone has to step up!

PS: You suck.

CS: You suck worse.

Agree with one or the other? Sound off in the comments below.


Who’s right?

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