Whenever Jayson Tatum does something good (which is very frequent) someone brings up his rookie status and breathlessly mentions that “he’s only 20 years old!” These things are true and it is amazing what he’s doing at his age. Still, it almost seems like he’s already graduated from that status at this point.
When does a rookie stop being a rookie? Yes, I know technically it would be after the season ends, but there’s nothing magical about that transitional definition. A freshman doesn’t feel much different on the last day of school, except for the thrill of summer vacation. Jayson Tatum would like to put those vacation plans on hold for as long as possible.
What we’ve seen from Tatum is a study in accelerated development. Circumstance has created the opportunity for him to mature faster than otherwise, but he’s taken all that this season has to offer and made more of it than anyone could have imagined. To the point where the “rookie” label seems abstract and quaint.
Just ask Jaylen Brown (via ESPN):
“It’s not even something new at this point. He’s not even a rookie,” said 21-year-old Jaylen Brown. “He’s deep into the postseason in his first year. So it’s a blessing to be here. He’s been filling it up on both sides of the ball. I tell him to stay locked in on both sides, but the sky is the limit for him.”
Jaylen Brown, not a believer in the rookie wall. “I don’t even believe that exists. I just think that’s a barrier of society the basketball world puts in place for you to slow down. ... If you come into the league thinking you’re going to hit one, you ... limit yourself.”— Jay King (@ByJayKing) May 24, 2018
Jayson has refused to limit himself and thus his game has grown into the open air above him. At the same time, as jarring as it is to imagine, there’s plenty more room in that airspace for him to continue growing. We aren’t at “Magic Johnson playing all 5 positions and scoring 42 to win the Finals” level quite yet. But I wouldn’t necessarily put it past him either.
Last night Tatum scored from all over the court, displayed impressive court vision with his passing, and excelled on defense. And he doesn’t seem fazed by the moment at all.
“I just enjoy playing in the big moments, in the big games,” Tatum said. “I think that’s when I have the most fun, when things are on the line. A lot of guys stepped up tonight. I can’t say it enough: We’re one win away from going to the [NBA] Finals, especially after everything we’ve been through.”
Tatum is only going to get stronger, and more experienced, and more prepared, and more intelligently aggressive. All of that is enough to give me goosebumps thinking of the future but I refuse to look too much beyond the moment.
The amazing thing is that Jayson Tatum is doing this right here and right now. He’s not yet a veteran, but he’s something beyond a rookie. He’s exactly what this team needs right now.