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Read & React: Is Jayson Tatum the league’s most complete player?

Putting some more nuance to the usual MVP discussion

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Boston Celtics Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

It is early yet, but that’s not going to stop the MVP discussion from ramping up already. It is nice hearing Jayson Tatum discussed frequently in those debates. Ultimately narrative and where the team finishes in the standings will have a lot to say about who actually wins the award. We’ll be sure to track that all season long.

However, there was one specific spin that I read recently that I wanted to react to. Michael Pina of The Ringer declared Jayson Tatum to be the Most Complete Player in the NBA in his too-early awards discussion.

As a bona fide MVP candidate who would scoot past Luka in this very column if his supporting cast wasn’t so much more impressive than Doncic’s—whose best teammate this season has been Spencer Dinwiddie—it’s all coming together. Tatum has touch, footwork, every ballhandling counter in the book, and a brain that seamlessly combines all of it without wasting any movement. He’s taking 4.4 more free throw attempts than his career average and shooting 81.4 percent at the rim.

Again, this doesn’t mean he’s “better” than Doncic, Curry, or Jokic, but none are ever asked to guard the other team’s best player, or able to help (he’s currently averaging the same number of blocks per game as Jarrett Allen) like the conservatively measured 6-foot-8 Tatum can. This doesn’t mean he’s better than Giannis. But when defenses load in the paint, Tatum has no problem creating a high-percentage shot by himself from the perimeter, then reliably making eight (not six) out of every 10 free throws. (It’s hard to think of any other player better than Tatum right now.)

Said another way, Tatum is establishing himself as perhaps the best two-way player in the league. Luka and Jokic might have more of an impact on offense, but they are also the heliocentric hub of their team’s offense. By design or by necessity, they do everything for the team on offense. That can take you a long way with an MVP caliber player, but at some point it also leaves you vulnerable. Either a team figures out a game plan to slow them down in a playoff series or that player just flat-out wears down with the cumulative strain (see Harden, James). Those guys also aren’t exactly known for their defense either.

Giannis is a All-World defender and a pretty special offensive player in his own right. But Tatum has a more well rounded offensive game. As Pina points out, Kawhi Leonard was the consensus best two-way guy previously, but injuries and load management have reduced his overall impact.

Regardless, it is sometimes hard finding new ways to explain how special Tatum is as a player and this is a somewhat unique angle that I wanted to highlight.

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