In the latest edition of his weekly Kia MVP Ladder, NBA.com’s Michael Wright has welcomed Boston Celtics’ star Jayson Tatum into the chat, ranking him fourth overall after a few weeks of floating just outside the top five. Ahead of Tatum remain the season-long presumptive favorites — Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, in that order. But Wright makes it known that Tatum did enough over the last week and change to leapfrog both Dallas’ Luka Doncic (now no. 5) and Memphis’ Ja Morant (now no. 6, likely thanks to the knee injury that will keep him out for a few weeks). His inclusion to the top five, Wright notes, is perhaps long overdue.
“Just 54 days ago, the Celtics defeated Miami behind a combined 49 points from Jaylen Brown and Tatum to improve to 27-15, leaving the team sitting at ninth in the Eastern Conference standings,” Wright writes. “Now, Boston owns the longest active winning streak in the East (five games), holds the fourth spot, and threatens to creep into the top three.”
Much like its star in his ladder.
It’s indisputable that Tatum is deserving. Twice this month, he’s been named one of the NBA’s Players of the Week. His team, thanks in large part to Tatums steady averages of 33.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game since March 1, have won 10 of their last 11 games, and are 12-2 since the All-Star break. Just over two months ago, Boston was 23-24. Now, they’re 46-28, having gone 23-4 since then, the best record in the NBA.
On their recent four-game road trip out West, the Celtics defeated the Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, and Utah Jazz by a combined 70 points; during their current win streak, they’ve outscored their opponents by a combined 108 points. Tatum scored at least 26 points in each of those five contests, and cracked 30 three times.
That’s probably plenty of information. But let’s throw in a few more nuggets, as a treat. Tatum’s shooting splits since the All-Star break? 51/44/90. Also, Boston is scoring 16.7 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor (124.4) than off of it (107.7) since the break. Tatum is also elevating his teammates, particularly his fellow star, Jaylen Brown: the two have combined to score 57.4 points per game over their last five games. In short, he’s been ridiculous.
“Hopefully next year, I can start off like that,” Tatum said the other night in a postgame conversation with NBC Sports Boston. “Then, I can be in that conversation if we keep winning like this. But I don’t know. I guess I just had to get my legs under me. It’s just that time of the year. It’s time to get ready for the playoffs. We all just turn it up a notch.”
Tatum certainly has turned it up a notch, to the tune of averages no other player has sniffed of late. Had he played like this to start the year, to his point, perhaps he’d have been on this ladder from the jump. But better late than never. And if he keeps it up through the playoffs, there’s no telling what next year may bring.
Now if only we could get people to stop speculating whether or not he belongs on the All-NBA first team.