As Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown try to establish themselves as the league’s clear-cut most dynamic duo, it’s easy to forget how young they still are.
Tatum may not be 19 anymore, but he’s only 24. Brown, as mature as he is, turns just 26 in October. They’ve experienced more success – and more agony – than most players do in their entire career.
It’s absolutely clear at this point that they’re better together than they are apart, and anyone who says otherwise isn’t worth arguing with at a bar. The craziest part is, they’re still getting better, and there’s no reason to believe they’re going to stop anytime soon.
The best players add elements to their game. Steph Curry has become a far better driver and defender. LeBron James improved significantly as a shooter. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s poise and decision-making have come a long way. Joel Embiid now thrives as a passer.
Tatum and Brown will continue to do the same in their own way. Yes, they struggled in stretches last season, but their shortcomings are all fixable. Without their brilliant overall play, there would have been no remarkable turnaround and no dramatic run to the NBA Finals.
It’s fair to criticize them, but it’s not fair to assume they’ll never rectify those issues. There’s no doubt that Brown (when he’s above water) has spent countless hours fine-tuning his handle this offseason. Tatum has certainly allocated time toward learning how to handle doubles and find open teammates.
They’ll come back even better. They’ve done it every year.
It’s also important to remember that building toward a championship can be a long and arduous process, even for many of the all-time greats. Remember that James didn’t win his first championship until age 27. Neither did Curry. Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kevin Durant were 28 when they won their first title. These things take time, and the agonizing journey to the mountaintop makes the view even sweeter.
If their past trajectory is any indication, Tatum and Brown will get there. Tatum has upped his points per game (13.9, 15.7, 23.4, 26.4, 26.9), rebounds per game (5.0, 6.0, 7.0, 7.4, 8.0) and assists per game (1.6, 2.1, 3.0, 4.3, 4.4) every single year. He shot a career-high 52.4 percent from inside the arc this past season and got to the free-throw line a career-high 6.2 times.
He also had a career-best offensive rating of 115.5, net rating of 12.1 and player impact estimate of 15.9. Tatum had the most points and assists of any player in the playoffs and was more often than not the best player on the floor – until the Finals, of course.
The next steps:
A) Becoming more efficient from 3-point range: He attempted a career-high 8.6 3’s per game but shot a career-low 35.3 percent last season.
B) Valuing the ball more: He turned it over a career-high 2.9 times. Against the Warriors, he looked confused and out of sorts whenever pressure came his way. Hire Tacko Fall to obstruct his vision if you have to. He needs to get better in that area, and he’s fully capable.
C) Piecing together complete games: Tatum often got hot in stretches in the second and third quarters and ripped off six-to-eight points in short spurts. If he can play efficiently at the beginning and end of games, that will go a long way.
Brown, meanwhile, posted a career-high 3.5 assists, player impact estimate of 13.5 and net rating of 9.8. He at times looked more in command and even more assertive than ever, but at times, he looked like he completely forgot how to dribble. Frankly, it was quite perplexing.
It’s an odd situation, where one of the games most dynamic and explosive players sometimes lost his superpowers at crucial moments. One moment he’d be blowing past a defender and throwing down a vicious dunk, and the next he’d be fumbling it and setting up an easy fast-break opportunity for the opponent.
The next steps:
A) Hold on to that sucker: Sometimes Brown has a tendency to pursue the spectacular play over the solid one. Listen to Brad Stevens. Hit singles. Make the right read and don’t overcomplicate it. Basketball is a simple game, especially with the recent influx of talent on the roster. Less can be more on a team with so much firepower.
B) Regain his efficiency: Brown shot 47.3 percent from the floor and 35.8 percent from 3, both of which were his lowest marks since at least 2019-20. Getting those percentages up to 50 and 40 is a realistic goal.
C) Stay true to himself: Whether it’s in transition, off a well-timed cut or in a 1-on-1 situation (while under control, of course), Brown is at his best when he’s getting to the rim. He averaged just 3.2 fast break points last year, which is way down from his career-best 4.5 in 2019-20. He also averaged 9.9 points in the paint, which is lower than his mark the year prior. Getting easy buckets gets him going, which then tends to organically improve his handle.
Remember when Tatum and Brown just entered the league? Many thought Tatum wasn’t the best player in his class. Many thought Brown was picked too high his year. Both have lived up to expectations and are well on their way to ultimately exceeding them.
Neither player is finished, and their story is told best as a duo. They will become NBA champions together, and it very well may happen this year. Stay patient, and remember the best is almost certainly yet to come.