He’s not 19 anymore. But he sure has grown up right before our eyes.
That meme of "I used to pray for times like this" with a crying Michael Jordan and the quote from a Meek Mill song hits differently when you’ve been following JT since he got into the league.
Looking back at how NBA Twitter even made a calendar of Tatum’s usual progression in a season from "Is he okay?" to "We’re watching the second coming of Christ" as fans have sort of gotten used to Tatum’s slow start and imminent explosion near the end of the regular season towards the playoffs.
But we’ve always hoped for a time when JT plays at an elite level from the beginning and end of a season like the superstar that he is.
Well, that time has finally arrived.
Jayson Tatum is currently averaging 31.6 points per game and 7.8 rebounds on 48.8% shooting from the field, and 36.6% from deep. He has cut down on his turnovers from last season’s 2.9 to this year’s 2.3 with an average of 4.5 assists per game.
The biggest standout in JT’s overall game is the emphasis on getting to the cup as he’s averaging 8.6 attempts per game from last season’s 6.2 attempts, along with an efficiency of 87.3% at the line.
And the eye test sees it all, JT is playing with much force and strength when he’s driving the ball and how effortlessly he makes it seem. From taking and initiating contact to using his size and strength to finish the play, Tatum knew what aspect of his game he needed to work on entering this season. Especially once you consider the fact that it was a short off-season for him and the C’s as they were fresh off playing in the NBA Finals.
But through an increase in attempts, there comes a decrease in one aspect of his game: the long two-point shots. From a frequency percentage of 15.7 to this season’s 10.2, along with bumping his catch-and-shoot threes to 23.3, his offense just looks more precise and polished.
Even though he added a floater to his offensive arsenal, he doesn’t overly rely on it and chooses the timing of its usage wisely as Tatum is now showcasing his ability to dictate certain factors of how he’s going to impact the game.
Whether it’s by being aggressive on offense or being more of a decoy to maximize the weapons of this ball club, to being more of a facilitator and getting guys more involved.
The game has seemingly slowed down for Jayson wherein he knows how to properly set the tone of the game, being more methodical on offense, and finally putting on the finishing touches as he sends the kiss of death to any opponent up for the challenge.
We’ve seen Tatum lead by example last year during the playoffs, but now he has taken it to another level by literally telling his teammates' certain adjustments to be made on offense and defense, along with being a motivator for the whole team.
Being in the bright lights of leading a team and being the face of the franchise for years to come can be too much to handle for some, even with all the "He’s only 19" jokes still present, Tatum is still a young player in the league who has fully embraced his role and emerged as hungry basketball player set on making amends for his Finals’ woes.
Whether it’s Luka, Morant, or Mitchell, JT has increased his intensity on the defensive end of the ball. We already know Tatum can play some great D, but to do it on a nightly basis while averaging 30 a game and being the second player in the league with the most number of minutes being played at 36.7.
Personally, I think when Tatum dropped 40 on a B2B game, fresh off facing Miami, against a young and hungry Magic team, I knew he has been locked in as soon as he started working on improving his game in the lab.
I’ve seen him on numerous occasions have that look "We ain’t losing this game", and would proceed to play like a man possessed or find different ways to impact the outcome of the game in favor of his team.
People would say that Tatum is in a good spot with good role players and a great one-two punch tandem with Brown, therefore would lessen his points on the MVP case as opposed to other players in the running.
For starters, I was never a fan of this argument since it completely plays down the impact players like Tatum are imprinting on the game with the way they play. Wherein, the MVP case has been reduced to "Who has the least help?" and "How’s the team’s record?", regardless if the player is balling out on a good team.
It’s like saying the player is only playing at an MVP level because of the pieces around him and not because of what he brings to the table. Arguments like that also diminish how the proper pieces around a player can elevate his game to a high standard, which also allows that player to showcase his best version in elevating the players around him at the same time.
Tatum does so many different things effectively that by changing the context of the team he’s playing in just so the other runners for MVP look good just comes off as lazy.
My two cents? With Tatum’s level of play right now on offense and defense, leading his team either through communicating on the court or setting them up for great looks, the numbers, and the eye test says it all with his team going 18-4 strong.
Jayson Tatum is taking the league by storm with no signs of slowing down.
Media outlets will have their debates, which is fine, but as of now #0 moves the needle.