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Jayson Tatum at the 5: it’s so crazy, it just might work (in spurts)

Hear me out before you jump to any conclusions

2023 NBA Playoffs - Miami Heat v Boston Celtics
Jayson Tatum rises up to finish over Jimmy Butler in Game 7.
Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

I’m not typically a hot takes kind of guy. My picks are relatively straightforward and sane (outside of March Madness, of course), and I don’t generally have anything too controversial to say on here.

Well, I’m feeling a little wild today. I’ve got a proposition for you. You might not like it. I’m sure I’ll hear you in the comments if you don’t. But, this is a blog, and we’re allowed to have some fun, so let’s have some fun.

I propose that the Celtics play Jayson Tatum at the 5. It would only be in certain situations (not regularly, don’t worry), and it would only happen for a few minutes at a time.

Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics - Game Seven Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

As a colleague pointed out in our CelticsBlog Slack, Boston has tried this, and it hasn’t worked, but I personally believe it’s too small of a sample size to truly determine if it’s effective.

If you try something a couple times, you have no idea if it actually has potential. If you try it periodically, throughout a long season, it could be advantageous in the playoffs.

Before I go any further, I do want to add an important caveat: the Celtics should, under no circumstances, try this against Joel Embiid and the 76ers. OK, let’s continue.

Let’s say the Celtics are down 8 to 12 points, midway through the third quarter, on the road against a team like the Knicks, Raptors or Bulls. They need a spark, and the other team doesn’t have an overpowering center.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Charlotte Hornets Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

I say Joe Mazzulla goes with a lineup of Derrick White, Malcolm Brogdon, Jaylen Brown, Oshae Brissett and Jayson Tatum, or something along those lines.

Wait a minute, this guy’s nuts. Well, maybe a little, but hear me out before you jump to any conclusions. You may think the Celtics would be outmatched defensively, and you’d probably be right, but they’d also create serious matchup problems on the other end.

With every player between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-8, the Celtics can switch just about everything. Remember those Warriors lineups? I’m not calling these guys those guys, but there would be some similarities conceptually.

They could play free, fast, essentially position-less basketball. If the other team scores, big whoop. Inbound it, push it and hit a 3 in the guy’s face. Defense wins championships, but offense wins games.

With Tatum at the 5, that means a guy like Isaiah Hartenstein, Jakob Poeltl or Nikola Vucevic would likely have to stick him. Good luck. They’re all skilled players, but Tatum has a better chance at consistently stopping them than they do of consistently stopping him.

If the other team goes double big, the Celtics have the edge speed-wise and athletically. If the other team tries to fight fire with fire, and goes small itself, chances are the Celtics are going to have the edge skill-wise.

As an opponent, you have to pick your poison. I repeat, the Celtics will give up points with this strategy. But they’re going to score a whole lot as well.

Plus, it’s not the worst thing for Tatum to play some interior defense. He’s not the same gangly rookie who often tried to avoid contact when he entered the league. He’s a grown man, with serious muscle, and a perpetual chip on his shoulder even though he’s universally recognized as one of the faces of the NBA.

He’s also probably the only player ever who might be taller than his listed height. There’s no way that dude’s not at least 6-foot-9, if not 6-foot-10.

Battling among the trees for rebounds is healthy. He might get some elbows and cuts along the way, but as long as he keeps fighting and doesn’t complain to the referee (not a guarantee), it’s good for him. Even Tatum needs to eat his vegetables.

Again, I want to repeat one final time: this should not be used for long stretches, and it should not be used against certain opponents. But, at the right moment, against the right opponent and with the right players around him, it’s so crazy it just might work.

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