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CelticsBlog Player of the Week #6: Jayson Tatum

Tatum followed up a head-to-head duel with KD with two scoring masterclasses vs. Charlotte and Detroit.

Dallas Mavericks v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Once again, it is time for the CelticsBlog Player of the Week, our weekly award highlighting an impact player from the previous week’s slate of games. This time around, we’re covering the week of March 7, which gives us three games to work with: Wednesday’s road trip to Charlotte, and home games on Friday and Sunday against Detroit and Dallas, respectively.

As always: “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.

Repeatedly writing about those two, while deserved, would be just a little bit less fun. For that reason, we’re going to broaden our standards a little bit to introduce a little more diversity in the results. The two are eligible for the award, of course, but the bar for them is just a little bit higher.

Go figure, though, that this is the third straight week one of them cleared that bar.

CelticsBlog Player of the Week #6: Jayson Tatum

3 GP, 38 MPG, 32 PPG, 48% FG, 39% 3PT, 92% FT, 8 RPG, 4 APG, +35

We’re sticking with Tatum this week, as he largely kept his thunderous momentum from last week rolling (apart from a rough game against Dallas; we’ll get to that). Apologies to Marcus Smart, who made a strong case for his second victory, but a streak of five straight 30-point games tends to earn some recognition, huh?

NBA: Boston Celtics at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

3/9 @ Charlotte Hornets: 44 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST, 3 STL, 1 BLK, 16-of-24 FG, 6 3PM

There may have been a three-day layoff after Tatum’s 54-point masterclass against the Brooklyn Nets, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell watching his follow-up performance. Picking up right where he left off, Tatum piled on 44 more points on the road against the Hornets. So, if you’re keeping track at home, that’s 98 points and 14 made threes in two games. Not bad at all.

A trio of steals and a shot blocked into the stands were nice additions, but really, this performance was about buckets. Tatum might have been even more locked in as a scorer than he was against Brooklyn, with an absolutely blistering 16-of-24 shooting line. Let’s enjoy some buckets, shall we?

I really enjoyed this improvised cut after one of his few misses of the night. Tatum bricks it from the corner, but catches Mason Plumlee napping as Robert Williams snatches the offensive board and flags down Marcus Smart for the lob.

3/11 vs Detroit Pistons: 31 PTS, 8 REB, 6 AST, 1 STL, 13-of-27 FG

One thing that really stood out about Tatum this week was how effectively he avoided turnovers. Given the massive responsibility he shoulders as the team’s lead scorer and playmaker (with a career-high 32% usage rate, to boot) a few turnovers here and there are to be expected. His season average of 2.8 per game, then, is pretty remarkable considering that burden — lower than contemporary high-usage stars like Kevin Durant (3.2), Giannis Antetokounmpo (3.2) and Luka Dončić (4.5).

This week, Tatum took that efficiency to a new level, turning the ball over just five times in three games. Against the Pistons, despite 27 shot attempts and six assists, he coughed it up just once. He’s not just making great decisions right now, he’s making them at a great pace — setting up and knocking down defenses without forcing the issue or trying to do too much.

Overall, the Celtics will probably be glad this was the last they’ll see of the Pistons this season. We discussed it here in this space just two weeks ago, but this young Detroit team has played the Celtics incredibly tough in their past few outings. They’re a fun young group with a lot of potential, and I’m excited to see what that matchup looks like this time next season.

3/13 vs Dallas Mavericks: 21 PTS, 11 REB (4 OREB), 4 AST, 7-of-23 FG

Let’s get it out of the way first: offensively, this was a rough one. Apart from Al Horford, who did some fantastic work in the paint, no Celtic had it going on the offensive end of the floor. The Mavericks have been neck-and-neck with the Celtics defensively since the start of the new year, and their trap-heavy scheme really flustered the Boston offense.

That goes for Tatum, too. It’s a testament to how good this Dallas defense is performing right now that, after a 17-point first half that looked as though Tatum was going to glide to 30 for the sixth straight game, they made the necessary adjustments and shut him down in the second. He scored just four points on 2-of-10 shooting after the break.

On the other end, though, the Celtics were their typically excellent selves for much of the afternoon. They held the prolific Mavericks offense to just 95 points, which, as Ime Udoka noted after the game, is something you usually feel good about. Tatum didn’t necessarily stand out from a box score perspective, but he didn’t get beat and provided his usual value with his length and defensive versatility.

On a more normal offensive night (or with some better referee work), this is a tough but solid win for the Celtics. Perhaps not the most exciting way to end a Player of the Week feature, but on the whole, Tatum’s exploits last week were still more than deserving.

Featured Highlight

There might not be a better play to showcase the totality of Tatum’s offensive game than his first bucket against the Hornets on Wednesday night.

Some excellent screening from Robert Williams sets this play up, as he fakes the screen on Bridges (who inexplicably goes under), only to wall him off from the other side as Tatum catches the feed from Smart. Mason Plumlee has to step up to guard the three-point line, and from there, Tatum goes to work.

Two years ago, Tatum probably just launches the pull-up three and given his skill as a shooter, that’s a solid look. But the manipulation on display here is the evolution. He knows Plumlee is worried about the three, and he also knows that with Plumlee playing so far up, the Hornets have nothing resembling a rim protector between him and the basket (with shooters in the corners, to boot). All it ultimately takes to get Plumlee off balance is a head fake, and he’s off to the races for a silky smooth finger roll over two smaller players.

That’ll do it for this edition of Player of the Week. Next up, the Celtics are headed west, with two big road games against Golden State and Denver on Wednesday and Sunday sandwiching a matchup with the Kings on Friday night. As always, give us your thoughts on who you think might step up in the comments below.

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