There’s no denying that Jayson Tatum has taken his game to new heights this season. From finishing around the rim to playing with controlled aggression, Tatum is proving himself to be a genuine MVP candidate.
Yet, we’re also seeing the Celtics utilize Tatum in new ways, be it as the popper in Spain pick-and-rolls or, more recently, as the ‘slip man’ in screening actions, allowing Tatum to roll into space behind the perimeter defense and reap havoc on help defenders around the league.
One of the better examples of Tatum operating in this way came against the Miami Heat, where he simply slipped his screen, received the rock around the nail, and took to the skies to stuff the rock over Bam Adebayo.
In the above possession, we get a glimpse of Tatum’s ever-improving strength and get to witness his true level of athletism — something we rarely see due to the style of his game.
When tasked with being the roll man, Tatum is also doing an exceptional job of sealing his man onto his hips, giving him plenty of space to turn and face the basket before making a drive to either score around the hoop or suck in the defense to generate kick-out opportunities to a shooter in the corner.
Another possession as the roll man and another thunderous dunk. The difference in this possession, though, is how Tatum utilized a screen to get a mismatch with Kyrie Irving before using his size to take Irving out of the equation when sealing him to receive the pass.
Interestingly, this action began with something out of the Celtics ‘quick’ series, which I recently wrote about.
I’ve also dissected this action in a little more detail so that it’s easier to see how Tatum utilized his screen to generate a mismatch before attacking the space behind Kevin Durant after Derrick White engaged him with an up fake to help create the driving lane for Tatum.
We also saw the Celtics give Tatum some reps as the roller when they faced the Toronto Raptors on Monday night, and again, the results were incredibly promising.
On this possession, we see Tatum set a back screen (rip screen) for Marcus Smart before slipping back toward the rim, finding an incredible amount of space in the middle of the floor. Credit to Matt Thomas, who helps off and gets in front of Tatum to limit the dunk threat and contest the shot. Unfortunately for Thomas, Boston’s budding superstar has the exceptional body control and can change directions on a dime, allowing Tatum to slightly shift his drive and then contort to get a ‘seemingly’ uncontested look around the rim.
Why is using Tatum as the roll man useful?
Regardless of where he is on the floor, Tatum boasts immense scoring gravity. So, putting him as the roll man adds a new layer of difficulty for the defense. Either the point-of-attack defender sticks with the ball-handler and abandon’s his team’s switching system, or they accept the mismatch and follow Tatum in his role.
Factor in Tatum’s size, length, and strength, along with his ever-improving passing ability, and suddenly, it seems almost impossible to stop Tatum when he’s slipping to the rim, especially if his screen has created a favorable matchup for him.
Ways to further build on this
The most logical next step in utilizing Tatum as a roller is to put him into short-roll situations, where he can pressure a defense due to his mid-range scoring and ability to spot cutters or spot-up shooters over the top of a defense.
By allowing Tatum to short-roll into space around the free-throw line extended, opposing teams will need to bring their low helpline pick-up points higher up the court, thus giving more room for baseline cuts or for shooters to re-locate to a path of least resistance.
Another factor here is that Tatum is a gifted post player, with the ability to back his man down, spin off of them, or hit the turnaround fadeaway jumper — all of which will give him another option if he ends up attacking from the high-post should a defender rush to engage him upon the catch.
Overall, putting Tatum in a roller position is just another evolution in how he can attack opposing defenses as an off-ball threat while still operating as a core part of the Celtics' offensive eco-system. Once Robert Williams returns, it’s exciting to think how Tatum’s role in these actions will evolve and how the type of three-man lob actions we will likely see occur, but for now, it’s fun to see Tatum getting so many open lanes to the rim, and long may it continue.