The NBA is back, and so, too, are the Boston Celtics. We’ve enjoyed just about a full week of NBA basketball at this point, and the Celtics have kicked off their run-it-back campaign with a sterling 3-0 opening week (we don’t have to talk about Chicago just yet). They offed conference rivals in the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat, and they’ve followed through on a “you simply must find a way to win this game” short-handed matchup against the lowly Orlando Magic. It’s an exciting time for the team, and it gives us a lot to discuss here today.
This is the 11th edition of CelticsBlog’s Player of the Week, dating back to last season. Some of you may be familiar, some of you may not, so as a reminder, our disclaimer: our “Player of the Week” does not necessarily translate to “Best Player of the Week.” The idea of this award is to highlight difference-makers from the past week’s games, and to be honest, a strict focus on “best” would lead to this award pinballing back and forth between Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They’re the team’s star players, and the most important and impactful players on the court even on their worst shooting nights.
Let’s get into it.
We start with the runners-up, and considering the Celtics went 3-0 in this week, there are quite a few options here. In fact, the list of positive performances is quite a bit longer than the list of worrisome ones. Grant Williams has kicked off his contract year with a bang, recording perfect shooting lines in two of his first three games and connecting on eight of his 10 threes in total. Derrick White hassled the Miami Heat defensively in the second game of the season, blocking three shots, and is shooting threes confidently and efficiently in the early going. Noah Vonleh deserves some lip service despite a rough outing in the frontcourt against the Magic, as he’s quickly shown himself to be a worthwhile presence off the bench in the diminished frontcourt rotation, sans-Robert Williams III.
Then, of course, there’s Jaylen Brown. If not for a rough 4-of-16 night against Orlando, he very well might have headlined this article — and if you think he should anyways, you might not be wrong. Brown was absolute nails against the Eastern Conference’s cream of the crop across the team’s first two games of the season. He piled up 35 points in the season opener against the 76ers, and tacked on a hyper-efficient 28 against the Heat a few days later. The handle looks tight, the decision-making looks focused; there are a lot of reasons to be excited about Jaylen Brown in the early going of this season.
That said, there’s only one guy to hand the award to this week.
CelticsBlog Player of the Week #11: Jayson Tatum
3 GP, 38 MPG, 35 PPG, 70% TS%, 8 RPG, 3 APG, 1 SPG, 1.7 BPG, +15
In totality, this week’s winner felt fairly clear. Jayson Tatum has started this season looking like the MVP candidate we’ve known he was capable of being, leading the NBA in scoring as of Sunday night with 35, 29 and 40 points in his first three games, while also recording a steal and at least one block in each. Even the league took notice: on Monday, he was named the first Eastern Conference Player of the Week of the season, alongside the West’s Damian Lillard.
Talk about a statement week for a player looking to correct the record after the outcome of last year’s Finals. Three games played, three dominant two-way performances. And to hear Tatum tell it, he’s not even all that pleased about any of it.
The name of the game for Tatum this week was domination in the paint. The three-ball wasn’t completely working yet, with consecutive 2-of-7 outings from deep to start the year, but that tends to matter a little bit less when you’re shooting 74% from inside the arc and 80% at the rim. Nobody has been able to stand in his way in the paint — not Joel Embiid, not Bam Adebayo, not Orlando’s cadre of centers. He’s slithered his way to the basket at will.
Always a sticking point with Tatum’s paint scoring — the floater. He’s had his issues from floater range in the past, in the in-between area sandwiched by the paint and the mid-range. But if the floater’s going to look like this, we could be talking about a real weapon here.
Then, of course, we have the defense. Surprisingly, it’s been a bit of a sore spot for this team at times; seemingly a strength of the roster heading into the season, it’s been one of their more inconsistent attributes. With Al Horford sitting due to rest on Sunday, they gave up a leaky 120 points to the youthful Magic in one of the weakest defensive efforts we’ve seen from a Celtics team since the first half of last year.
Those struggles have little to do with Tatum, though. Always a bit of an underappreciated defender, he’s been showing up in a way that’s been hard to deny. Everything has been working — length, positioning, on-ball pressure, all of it. Tatum has always been a very valuable defender, but if this is what we’re going to see from him all season long, a (very possibly overdue) spot on the NBA’s All-Defense squad simply has to be forthcoming.
This was an all-around dominant week for Tatum, and there’s honestly no better way to kick off Player of the Week for the season than that. For our next outing, we’ll be discussing Monday’s loss to the Chicago Bulls, along with games on Friday and Saturday against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards, respectively. Who will step up to fill this space next week? Drop us a line below and give us your thoughts.