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The best transition duo in the NBA resides in Boston

The Jays both use in and out moves to breakdown defenders in transition.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

When you think of transition offense in the NBA, names like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Lebron James are the first to come to mind and for good reason. Giannis and Lebron rank #1 and #2 in the league in transition possessions per game; they both seek out fastbreak opportunities like Payton Pritchard seeks out three-point attempts in meaningless end-of-season games (not hating, I love Pritchard’s confidence).

Jaylen Brown is close with the 4th most transition possessions per game, and Tatum sits a bit further back at 15th.

But, more important than the number of possessions is the effectiveness of those possessions, right?

Out of the top 25 players in the NBA in transition possessions per game, Jayson Tatum scores the most points per possession (tied with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at 1.26). You know who’s right behind them? Jaylen Brown at 1.25.

Let me reiterate that real quick.

Out of the top 25 players in the NBA in transition possessions per game – in other words, the best and most prolific transition players in the league – Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both rank in the top-3 in points per possession, making them some of the most effective and efficient transition scorers the NBA has to offer. And oh, by the way, they’re on the same team.

Only three other teams – Memphis, Charlotte, and Indiana – have two players in the top 25 in transition possessions per game, suggesting that the Jays shoulder quite the transition load relative to their fellow superstar peers. There isn’t much of an argument to be made for any other team showcasing a more potent one-two punch in transition. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the best transition duo in the NBA, and it isn’t that close.

The Film

So, what makes the Jays so successful on the break?

Let’s start with Jaylen, the head of the transition snake (JB plays more in transition that JT, and is just as effective).

Jaylen hunts out transition opportunities, probably because his physical tools make him nearly unguardable on the break.

He’s one of the most daunting players in the league with a full head of steam; his strength, athleticism, and body control combined with his handle and finishing ability make him quite difficult to stay in front of. Also, would you want to step in front of a man wearing that mask?

Here’s an example of Jaylen’s extreme aggression in transition. He literally gets down the floor faster with the ball than Precious Achiuwa does without the ball (that’s hard to do, FYI). Also, look at OG Anunoby – an elite, All-NBA defender – who gets completely overwhelmed by Jaylen’s explosiveness and retreats under the hoop without any hope of effectively contesting.

This fast break just exudes fearlessness. JB takes on two defenders but still holds the advantage because he throws the ball out in front of him with his momentum going towards the rim. At mid-court, he showcases his tight handle with a grotesque in and out move, something he has in his bag.

Here’s that in and out move again. Just nasty. Brown slows down to get Julius Randle on his back, all while sizing up RJ Barrett and completely shifting him laterally. You can tell the whole time that Brown is just setting Barrett up for the fake crossover. It’s become a real cornerstone of JB’s dribble bag.

Jayson Tatum also goes to the in and out move quite often, both in transition and in the half court.

Tatum’s version of the move completely leaves Deandre Hunter (a talented defender) in the dust. Tatum’s combination of size and handle just make him too difficult to stay in front of in this situation. JT is a literal freight train.

Tatum has also expanded his finishing repertoire, which has opened up opportunities at the rim in transition. I wrote earlier in the year about the improvement of Tatum’s left hand, and that has paid dividends in the fast break department.

This just doesn’t feel like a finish that Tatum would have completed a year ago. Again, JT’s size, strength, and skill force Keegan Murray and De’Aaron Fox to be in constant retreat mode. But, at the last second, Tatum can slow down his body for the controlled finish. Pretty stuff.

This play should be the poster child of feel for the game. It might seem like a showy move, but it’s awfully effective. Tatum puts the ball through his legs at the perfect time — right when Killian Hayes crosses Isaiah Stewart’s point of view and makes it difficult for him to see the ball. And before you know it, Tatum breezes by Stewart to the rim because he loses sight of where the ball is. Tatum is 6’9, if you forgot.

Playoff Implications

Playoff ball tends to be slower paced, but the Jays should still thrive in transition.

The Hawks play at the sixth fastest pace in the league, and if yesterday’s play-in game against the Heat taught us anything it’s that Atlanta will attack the offensive glass with ferocity. Beating the Hawks down the floor will thus be one of the many ways in which the Celtics can and likely will dismantle the 7 seed.

You know who plays at the fourth slowest pace in the league and who will likely be the Celtics’ second round matchup? The 76ers.

Their biggest Achilles heel, you might ask? Joel Embiid’s ability, or lack thereof, to play with the same intensity and energy throughout the entirety of a playoff game. Put more plainly, his conditioning and motor. The Jays’ ability to push the pace and force Embiid to run back in transition could be the key to that series.

Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have been the best regular season transition duo in the NBA. Now, it’s time to see if they can carry it over to the playoffs.

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