Having two stars on the same roster is a luxury many teams strive for, and having them both aged 25 or under (happy belated birthday, Jaylen) is what front offices dream about. Getting those two players to a top-20 level is campfire talk, and getting them to seamlessly play off of each other is a page out of the basketball bible.
That's the swing factor here, having the stars play in tandem. Not a “your turn, my turn” dynamic, but rather feeding off each other's movement, striking fear into defenses with or without the ball. Oh, how we have waited for this. We’ve seen flashes, no doubt about it, and last night's performance may yet prove to be just another lightning jolt, but when Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are on the same page, this Celtics team looks a different animal.
At this early juncture in the season, the signs are encouraging! Tatum has made a total of 18 assists across his four games, with six of them going to Brown (33%). On the other hand, Brown has nine assists to his name, with Tatum being the beneficiary twice. Small sample sizes for sure, but it's encouraging to see the two stars looking for each other on offense.
Of course, the numbers only track when a shot falls, and there are plenty more looks that result in hockey assists or come to nothing. Take this below play as an example:
Brown created this play with his initial drive and then swing to Tatum; sure, Tatum gets the assist, but if it weren't for the star wings working together, Schroder wouldn't find himself alone in the corner.
Another thing about growing together is the understanding you have of each other's game: knowing where each other's spots are or where they will want to get to on the floor. Watch this below play, and pay attention to how Brown follows Tatum's movements, ensuring he's in the perfect position to provide an outlet when the defense inevitably collapses.
Brown is tracing Tatum's movements, lifting and sinking to and from the wing, staying in shooting stance in case the ball should find him - this is what playing together looks like.
You will see Brown and Tatum split the court throughout games, with one operating on either wing, as you did for stretches against the Hornets. It's fair to argue that the star duo is playing with each other at those moments rather than off each other. However, operating on different wings is another wrinkle to their partnership, as they offer outlets and command attention on the perimeter, thus opening lanes for their co-star or other members of the rotation.
"They have the best defenders most of the time, not just tonight, but every game they're going to have the best defenders on those two guys," Ime Udoka said after Brown and Tatum operated on opposite wings for stretches during overtime.
Udoka makes a good point. Help defense can’t risk leaving one of Tatum or Brown on their own, well, not unless they want to get cooked from deep anyway. In the below play, you will see Tatum drive middle off a Horns set in transition, with Brown situated in the corner. Usually, the strong side will offer help defense on the drive, as they stunt in an attempt to force a pick-up, but with Brown there, the defense stays home. The result? A thunderous lob finish from Robert Williams.
Playing in tandem doesn’t mean either of these stars should avoid individual moments of brilliance. Rather, they should embrace their elite skills, knowing that their counterpart is ready to provide a pressure release if the defense stands strong. And in a game where Brown and Tatum combined for 71 points, 11 assists, and 16 rebounds, it’s safe to assume they’re developing the understanding of when to attack and when to rely on each other.
There’s an old hip-hop song from the ’90s featuring Biggie Smalls and P-Diddy called “Victory,” and while the song title is apt following last night's performance, one line stands out when talking about Tatum and Brown: “Yo, the sun don’t shine forever. But as long as it’s here, then we might as well shine together.”
There will be countless more games where the duo of Tatum and Brown continue to build off their performance against the Hornets, but there will also be more where one gets hot and the other struggles. The trick is to maximize their load sharing and minimize the reliance on one of them going nuclear, and that comes with ball movement and trusting the other members of the roster to make an impact within their role.
Regardless of what the future may hold, we got another glimpse at Brown and Tatum the duo rather than as individual stars, and they shined bright enough to see the team past the Hornets. All we can do now is hope for some consistency as the team looks to start stacking wins.