The Boston Celtics are one of just three teams in the NBA with a pair of 25-point per game scorers. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum’s combined 53.9 point scoring average trails behind only Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn and Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in Portland.
While Boston’s pair of precocious wings have produced at similar levels – Brown is averaging 27.1 points and 3.5 assists, Tatum 26.8 and 3.7 – their approaches on the offensive end stand in contrast. Tatum spends more time probing, setting up defenders for sidestep threes or methodically making his way into the paint with precise footwork that leads to seemingly unguardable fadeaways.
Tatum is never in a rush. His 4.8 minutes of total possession per game aren’t quite in line with the game’s most ball dominant players, but they’re tops on the team, and 78% more than Brown’s 2.7, per NBA.com.
Brown attacks defenses like he’s been shot out of cannon, flying around in transition, launching triples if he sees the slightest of windows, and pressuring defenses with lightning quick drives to the rim if opponents run him off the line. Some of his urgency is by design. Head coach Brad Stevens loves to get him the ball on the move.
Putting Brown in positions to leverage his athleticism is good coaching, but the fact Stevens can lean on such a strategy so heavily is a testament to the Celtics budding superstar. Brown entered the league lacking polish. He’s tightened his handle and improved his shot to a degree that have made him capable of navigating miniscule windows of space, and is a nightmare to defend as a result.
Pair Brown with Tatum, and suddenly have the Celtics have two such potent threats that almost any combination of players around them are sufficient to establish a quality offense. Boston is scoring 117.5 points per 100 possessions with their young duo on the court in non-garbage-time minutes, per Cleaning The Glass. That ranks in the 86th percentile league-wide, and comes despite the fact that much of their time has been spent surrounded by teammates of relatively limited offensive ability.
Brown’s leap in offensive production and efficiency this year has been boosted by some potentially unsustainable mid-range shooting, but he’s clearly a massively improved player to where he was even just a few years ago. If his ascension to the league’s upper crust of offensive players is real, then the Celtics officially have the top-level talent to graduate from fringe contender to real threat to win a title.
They remain, at least to a degree however, trapped between building for the present and the future. Kemba Walker is an excellent third wheel when he is healthy and playing at his best. Unfortunately, those two things haven’t happened for some time, but he deserves some patience as he continues to round into form after injury.
Whether or not Boston has enough talent to supplement its stars outside of Walker remains to be seen. The best players on the very best teams have a tendency to paper over the quirks and deficiencies of their supporting cast. Brown and Tatum are growing into such players, and the Celtics are posed to reap the benefits of that fact for years to come.
Shoring up the edges of the roster still matters, but it’s important not to miss the forest for the trees here. Brown and Tatum have arrived.