As another cold winter ends, snow drifts around Boston are gone and signs of spring are starting to pop up around the city. We’re less than a month away from Patriots’ Day, the Boston Marathon, Opening Day at Fenway, and yes, the NBA Playoffs. For the Celtics, several of the players have already started to bloom.
Jaylen Brown has reached the level he was at last year and is looking to build on his momentum heading into the post season. Marcus Morris is shooting his way out of a January and February cold streak that chilled his career year. But unfortunately, Jayson Tatum has entered the worst slump of his rookie and sophomore seasons.
In March, Tatum is shooting a dismal 41.2% from the field including 18.5% from behind the arc. That’s a far cry from the February he turned in at 48.6% (35.5% from three) and his 2017-2018 rookie season when he shot 47.5% and 43.4%. In the grand scheme of things, this eight game stretch is a blip on the trajectory of Boston’s just turned 21-years-old star and a fact that his head coach and teammates continue to remind him of.
“He’s a really good shooter, he’s a very capable shooter, and I think that ultimately, he’s going to knock those down,” Brad Stevens said after Tatum hit just 3 of his 12 shots on Monday night, including 1-of-5 from three in a 114-105 loss to the Nuggets.
“At times when you’re struggling, it’s all about getting in the gym and shooting your way through it and for some guys, it’s about ‘don’t take ‘em.’ But for him, it’s shoot your way through it, because that has to be one of his strengths. He’s a good shooter with wonderful touch and we need him to be a threat out there and he is.”
Teammate Kyrie Irving was more succinct. “Slumps are overrated. You gotta get FGA’s up to get FGM’s. That’s my motto. Keep shooting ‘em ‘til you make it.”
It’s a make or miss league, but if you take a 30,000 foot view of Tatum’s development and shot selection, you’ll notice just how much he’s tailored his game to be more effective and efficient.
After the start of the season where he spent most of his time in the mid-range in October, he cut down 15-footers out of his diet and he’s been growing more and more aggressive with his paint and rim attacks. That hasn’t translated yet to more trips to the free throw line, but progress is progress.
However, his possible hesitancy to shoot has made him a more effective and willing passer. Over the last four games, he’s had assist totals of 6, 4, 3 and 5. For fans hoping for Tatum to make the jump to the next level, this is a welcome development. Instead of using his length to finesse his way around the restricted area, Tatum is utilizing his Go-Go Gadget arms to whip passes around defenders and kicking the ball out to open shooters.
Kyrie called slumps “overrated.” They’re snapshots of a moving picture that spans thousands of shots. They don’t speak to ability or talent. Tonight’s game against Philadelphia could be the slump buster though. In three games against the Sixers this season, Tatum has averaged 22 points on 46% shooting, including an Opening Day showcase when he lead the team in scoring with 23 points to beat Philly. Tatum will get through this just as winter turns to spring and he’ll have another rough stretch in the future, too.