Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum has established himself as one of the best players in the NBA. He’s a four-time All-Star, a three-time All-NBA player (including an All-NBA First Team appearance last year), has made the Eastern Conference Finals four times, and the NBA Finals once.
And he’s just 25 years old.
The Celtics have done a great job of surrounding him with internal and external talent. Tatum and Jaylen Brown have averaged 20 or more points in the last four seasons, and Boston has brought in the likes of Al Horford, Derrick White, Malcolm Brogdon, and others to help Tatum in his quest for a title.
But what if the Celtics could pair Tatum with any four players in the history of the NBA? What if the Celtics could pair Tatum with one Hall-of-Famer, one All-Star, and two role players? That’s exactly what we discussed on a recent edition of our podcast, How ‘Bout Them Celtics.
We picked teams with Tatum as the headliner — Sam taking a more historical approach, and Jack focusing on current players. (Note: Sam played Tatum at the power forward, while Jack had him at the small forward spot.) Some ground rules:
- For All-Star players, the qualification is players who have never been an All-Star (historically) or current players who haven’t played at an All-Star level. Because of the second part, guys like Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, and Desmond Bane do not qualify.
- If a current player were to retire today and be in the Hall of Fame, they would fall under the Hall of Fame tier, not the All-Star tier.
When I was taking resumes to fill out my “dream roster” around Jayson Tatum, I really wanted my team to work in today’s NBA. Of course, it would’ve ruled to put a Hall-of-Fame big man alongside Taco Jay. But, in today’s league — besides a versatile guy like Nikola Jokic — that doesn’t really spell success. A large dose of low-post play usually makes for a clunky offense, unless the focal point has eyes in the back of his head (and also some super-cool scars on his face).
Instead, I decided to include as much shooting and defense as possible. It’s the clearest winning formula in the modern game. So, why not give it a whirl?
PG: Stephen Curry (Hall of Fame)
When you’re looking to assemble an Avengers-level team of sharpshooters, Stephen Curry is a must. In this scenario, he’s my Hall of Fame talent despite still being active. If he were to retire today, he’d undoubtedly wind up in Springfield.
Curry is the greatest shooter of all time and holds the all-time record for most career three-pointers made with 3,390 and counting. More importantly, his game is fluid, meaning that he can seamlessly fit next to another elite scorer due to his lack-of-need for the ball. Just take a look back at how easy he made Kevin Durant’s transition to the Golden State Warriors a few years ago.
Tatum has been compared to KD plenty of times and has shown the ability to distribute the ball well as the focal point of the offense. There’s no doubt that he’d be able to find the scrambling Curry as he flies around the court running around screens.
SG: Bruce Bowen (Role Player)
The modern NBA’s best role players usually follow the same mold — 3-and-D. It’s a simple skill set that is extremely effective. Oddly enough, one of the league’s best ever 3-and-D players hasn’t suited up since 2009.
Bruce Bowen was named to eight-straight All-Defense teams from 2001-2008. While he was locking down opposing squads’ top perimeter players on the defensive end, Bowen was drilling threes on the other. He shot an efficient 39.6% from beyond the arc over the course of his 13-year NBA career.
Despite the appealing game, it took Brown a while to stick with a team. He spent four years bouncing around the league before eventually finding a home with the San Antonio Spurs in the summer of 2002. He became a staple to San Antonio’s sustained success, helping them win three NBA championships in 2003, 2005, and 2007.
SF: Richard Jefferson (Role Player)
Along with Bowen, Richard Jefferson would serve in that 3-and-D role for the Tatum dream team. At six-foot-seven, he’d be a flexible defender that would allow the team to have some switchability on the perimeter.
Plus, he’s a guy that was able to knock down threes for a good chunk of his career. He shot a respectable 37.6% from distance for his career, even after having a rough start from long-range as a pro. During Jefferson’s first stop in the league with the New Jersey Nets, he shot just 33.8% from deep.
Oddly enough, he joined the Spurs in 2010, shortly after Bowen called it quits, as No. 12’s replacement. Though he wasn’t able to win a ring in San Antonio, he did thrive as a shooter. His three-point percentage jumped up to 40.1% while playing alongside Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker.
He’d likely be able to thrive in a similar fashion if he was playing alongside Tatum.
C: Rasheed Wallace (All-Star)
To stick with the three-point shooting theme, I selected Rasheed Wallace as my All-Star. Wallace was one of the pioneers for sharpshooting centers around the NBA. He entered the league in 1995 but didn’t really start firing up long-range attempts until the 2000-01 season — when he shot 2.1 per game.
Sheed wasn’t the most efficient marksman, but he was still effective at 33.6% for his career. In his prime years with the Detroit Pistons, he was even better. The North Carolina alumni shot 34.8% from long range in those seasons, even helping the Pistons to win the 2004 NBA title.
Though he was never named to an All-Defense team, Wallace was still a respected defender around the league and received a fair amount of votes from the 1999-00 season through the 2008-09 campaign.
Tatum is one of the most well-rounded players in the NBA today, so building a team around him doesn’t require many unique specifications. For example, you would want to cover up Giannis Antetokounmpo’s shooting and add defense around a guy like Stephen Curry.
For Tatum’s team, I was focused on building a well-rounded team that would emphasize Tatum’s skillset. The Celtics star is an elite defender, one of the best scorers in the league, and a great rebounder. The best skills to put around Tatum would be playmaking, defense, and three-point shooting.
That’s exactly what this team provides.
PG: Tyrese Haliburton (All-Star)
As noted, I took a more current approach with my team building, and being a huge Tyrese Haliburton fan, this selection was admittedly biased. That said, the Indiana Pacers point guard may be the best current point guard to put next to Tatum.
Haliburton enjoyed a breakout season this past year, making his first All-Star Game. He averaged 20.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game, shooting 49.0% from the field and 40.0% from beyond the arc.
Boston has never paired Tatum with a pure playmaker, and having that skillset next to him could really open up the floor for the superstar. Add in his knockdown shooting (with an interesting shot form), and Haliburton was an easy choice.
SG: Derrick White (Role Player)
Is this another biased choice? Absolutely. Is Derrick White the best 3-and-D guard in the NBA? Also, yes.
White just wrapped up an All-Defensive Second Team season where he was one of the most impactful defenders in the league, especially around the rim. He was a better paint protector than more than half of the league’s starting centers and an absolute pest on the perimeter.
And on top of that, White was one of the most effective three-point shooters in the league. He shot 38.1% from deep on 4.8 three-point attempts per game. His shooting would pair beautifully next to Tatum and the rest of this lineup.
Plus, White would act as a secondary playmaker on this team, as he’s an underrated ball handler (who is set to take over as Boston’s starting point guard next year), which would add an extra element to this starting five.
PF: Keegan Murray (Role Player)
This is probably my least favorite choice, but I stand by it. Keegan Murray is a big forward capable of playing either the three or four and was one of the most effective three-point shooters in his rookie season.
Murray shot 41.1% from distance on 6.3 attempts per game, setting the record for the most three-pointers made in a season by a rookie. He made 46.9% of his wide-open threes and 42.3% of his triples from the corners.
At 6-foot-8, Murray has excellent size and was a decent enough defender in his rookie year. However, his catch-and-shoot game was the reason behind his selection, as he’ll act as the three-point sniper in this lineup.
C: Tim Duncan (Hall of Fame)
When looking at which position to use my Hall of Fame selection at, I was focused on the point guard and center spots. I almost went with Curry, who Sam ultimately went with. Instead, however, I wanted to go with one of the best defenders in league history in Tim Duncan.
Duncan holds the record for the most All-Defensive Team selections with 15, yet he never won a Defensive Player of the Year. He would act as the defensive anchor of this lineup and the squad’s secondary scorer behind Tatum.
There were plenty of other Hall-of-Fame centers that I could have chosen, but the winning mindset and quiet leadership of Duncan were the reasons I went with him. Duncan was willing to do whatever it took to win at every turn. That was all he wanted, and that’s what he’ll bring to this team.
What would your Tatum Dream Team look like, and who do you think built the better team here?