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With elite spacing around him, Jayson Tatum is already utilizing his interior game

Jayson Tatum focused on an inside-out game against the Knicks, and that could be key to an exciting season from the Celtics MVP candidate.

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

We’re one game into the new season. Everything we saw against the New York Knicks is subject to change. Joe Mazzulla’s gameplan will be fluid. The offense will alter depending on the type of defense they’re facing. However, if there’s one thing we can bank on, it’s that the Celtics will continue to have elite spacing.

Every member of the team’s starting five commands respect from a defense. There are no slouches. All are three-level scoring threats. Against the Knicks, Tatum made the most of the additional space inside. The All-NBA forward was aggressive, pressuring the rim, working with his back to the basket and creating space for himself with impressive footwork.

Tatum took 22 shots against New York. Only 8 of them came on the perimeter.

Jayson Tatum’s shot chart against the New York Knicks
Jayson Tatum’s shot chart against the New York Knicks

Tatum took a couple of longer mid-range looks. He created space for himself and showed confidence in his scoring ability. Tatum taking the occasional mid-range jumper isn’t a bad shot. He’s talented enough to knock them down at a consistent clip.

For a player who has been accused of settling for perimeter jumpers at times, seeing increased aggression to attack or create space is encouraging. He’s one of the best scorers in the NBA, giving him the freedom to take a few mid-range attempts will only improve his overall scoring profile. Tatum could feast in the mid-range game against teams that are dropping their bigs. It’s an area the Celtics have needed to improve in.

Then, there was Tatum’s rim pressure. His size and strength make him a difficult opponent to contain while driving the lane. He ended the game with 7 drives, each of them resulting in a shot attempt. He only missed once.

Utilizing a “lay-ups and threes” mindset will give the Celtics more urgency in their drives. Joe Mazzulla likes his team to run early offense actions and catch the defense before they’ve set up. Tatum can raise his scoring averages and shot efficiency by embracing a “rim-pressure first” mentality.

That style of approach could also lead to more post-up offense, as he counters any defensive rotation — which is another area we saw Tatum embrace in the Celtics opening game.

“Once he grasps that portion of his game,” Cassell told Boston Sport’s Journal’s John Karalis. “He’s hard to stop now … he’s going to be very, very hard to stop. … with his back to the basket, it leads to him picking teams apart.”

Cassell’s comments weren’t just related to scoring. Tatum is a budding playmaker and has improved his passing ability over the past three or four years. Having a high-gravity scorer facilitate the offense out of the low, mid, or high-post will be an invaluable tool for the Celtics. Tatum on the post is a nightmare for defenses; more often than not, they’re going to send a double team. That’s when his passing can start chipping away on the scoreboard.

If the double doesn’t come, there will likely be confusion regarding where any switches should occur. Tatum’s presence on the block will create problems regardless of how it happens.

Here’s an example of Tatum creating offense following a post-entry pass from Jrue Holiday. The Knicks don’t double the post-possession, but they struggle to adjust their defensive approach, allowing Holiday to attack any confusion and create an opening for himself off the drive.

In instances like the one above, Tatum could also back his man down, bump his defender, and then shoot the fadeaway or spin-off his man and attack the space behind them off the dribble.

We’re only one game into the Celtics regular season. However, the available space due to Boston’s ability to space the floor is exciting. Tatum’s offense can now thrive via easy looks in the paint or mid-range jumpers. And, as we all know, the St. Louis native only needs to see one of his shots fall to get himself in a rhythm.

Tatum started the 2021-22 season with an increased onus on interior scoring. He helped lead the franchise to an NBA Finals appearance. Now, with Cassell and Charles Lee working on his interior game and some of the best spacing in the NBA, Tatum could help take the Celtics one step further. And, who knows, perhaps he can event become a more consistent threat, which could see him enter the MVP discussion.

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, though. First, let’s see how he looks to develop his shot profile against the Miami Heat tonight.

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