Jayson Tatum entered his second season in the NBA with a world of confidence. He was coming off a strong playoff performance averaging 18.5 points. Tatum took over and was a major part of the Celtics’ success making it to the Eastern Conference Finals without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward. Even as it was an unfortunate Game 7 result to Cleveland Cavaliers, Tatum still was able to end his rookie season on a personal high-note dunking on LeBron James. The sky was certainly the limit for the third overall selection out of Duke University.
Entering into this 2018-2019 season, the stakes were even higher for this Celtics team. Kyrie and Hayward were back and Tatum was coming off a great end of the year last season. No one expected what ultimately happened this season which made people’s collective thoughts about Tatum’s progression a bit jaded. Everyone was expecting him to make a huge jump to All-Star status becoming the number two next to Kyrie. These were just not realistic expectations for a second-year player in this league whose role was limited in this new crowded roster. Ironically enough from the surrounding narrative, Tatum did put up better numbers this season than last.
This uptick is what the critics will try and avoid when it comes to Jayson Tatum. The thought is that the team did not make it to the Finals, so, in turn, everyone failed to meet their expectations. Tatum, however, was not part of that group even in a crowded roster. He made the progressions in his game and accepted a role that shows the exact trajectory for him to grow into a superstar.
Getting Into The Numbers
Starting with the basic numbers, in his ‘17-’18 rookie season, Tatum averaged 13.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. This was all averaging 30.5 minutes per game which is a healthy mark for a rookie coming into the league. Contrast these numbers with this season where he averaged 15.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in 31.1 minutes per game. These numbers may be the simplest of statistics, but they are the simple statistics that mean a great deal for wins and losses.
The story of Jayson Tatum’s 2018-2019 season does not begin and end with these traditional numbers. The underlying numbers of his game could show where he needs to improve this off season. One major discrepancy from his first year to his second year was his points per shot attempt. This shows total points scored per 100 shot attempts including field goal attempts or trips to the free-throw line. Per Cleaning the Glass, Tatum dropped from 116.8 points to 109.7 points between his rookie and second-year season. That is a significant drop off for Tatum in shot efficiency. Points per shot attempt is one of the best indicators of the effectiveness of a player’s shot selection.
All season long, Tatum looked to be more content with settling with a pull-up two than driving and finishing around the basket. With the NBA changing into a layups and three-pointers league, this style and aspect of his game was the most criticized all season long. His statistics trended that way as well. Tatum shot 70% of his shots from two-point range. This does not cause much worry until it is seen that he shot 43.9% of his shots from 3 feet to three-point range. It is not nearly enough close-to-the-basket scoring.
Looking back over Tatum’s game logs, he only had four games this season with double digits free throw attempts. In two of those four games, he ended with 25+ points which ended up being top-5 scoring nights this season. This is the key for Tatum. He must mix in an attack the paint mindset next to his dangerous mid-range game. It will be a great combination with continuous off-season work.
All this being said, Jayson Tatum needs to continue doing what he is most comfortable. He will eventually learn to think attack the rim first while having a sharp mid-range game if the paint is too clogged. He made a career out of his mid-range game at Duke, so it is only natural he falls back into this comfort zone now.
Tatum’s game still has years to develop into the perfect individual player. Most of his offensive numbers were up this year, so the growth he expects will only be steadily rising. His ‘18-’19 season was a solid progression.
What’s Next For Jayson Tatum?
It is only exciting times for Jayson Tatum and his career in the NBA. He will be going into his third year as someone already putting up numbers like an NBA veteran. Tatum will work this summer to be better than the first two years as he strives for his goal in this league. This work will hopefully be focused on what was mentioned earlier, driving to the rim and maybe, in turn, working on the three-point shot. It is not the right decision to be solely working on a mid-range game that the modern NBA is veering away from. He definitely does not need to lose that in his arsenal, but Tatum must know that driving to the rim and getting to the free-throw line is a much higher percentage shot while also a way to get himself into rhythm.
All in all, Jayson Tatum will only continue to grow in his third season. With many question marks surrounding the roster construction next year, he needs to keep his head down and focus on improving his strengths and also his weaknesses. That will push him through the rumors that will certainly be flying in a few weeks. The Celtics should be incredibly aware of what kind of talent they have with Tatum. His 2018-2019 season may have had its issues, but he continues to grow and that is all anyone can ask of him. Jayson Tatum will continue this trajectory until he achieves that superstar status.