Where does Celtics’ Jayson Tatum rank among the NBA’s best and stars? – MassLive.com - Techy Hunters


Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Where does Celtics’ Jayson Tatum rank among the NBA’s best and stars? – MassLive.com

As the All-Star appearances, Celtics scoring records and accolades pile up for Jayson Tatum, there’s little denying his future superstardom. He’s only 23 but has improved his game every summer as he enters his fifth year in the NBA.

But where does Tatum rank among the superstars of the league? The Celtics have a stellar national brand — which results in more exposure and national TV games  — which doesn’t hurt as Tatum becomes a household name.

Tatum isn’t quite up there in the top-5 of the league; top-10 is hard-pressed. But he’s in that next tier, a budding star forward who has at least another decade in the league.

The superstars in the league are constantly pushing to be in the MVP conversation annually, and while Tatum isn’t there yet, that could be in the works in the near future. If the Celtics surprise this season with a stellar record and a high seed while Tatum improves on last year, he’s a dark-horse MVP candidate.

But there’s still a significant leap he needs to make, though he has plenty of time. Tatum was the youngest player on USA Basketball yet the second-leading scorer of the team. It’s not often players are two-time All-Stars at his age and are battle-tested through deep playoff runs.

The scoring average continues to climb for Tatum, who averaged 26.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game last season — all career-high marks. He can still improve on the defensive side of the court to be more of a two-way player, but his lengthy frame at least projects to be an asset.

The seeds are present for Tatum to elevate his game to the next level. The surrounding pieces on Boston don’t spell title contender in the present, but having a fellow young All-Star in Jaylen Brown helps. The Celtics have at least put themselves in a position to add a third superstar, which could be another big boost.

Tatum’s first step is to become a player who’s firmly in the top-15 in the league. He’s battling a few other talented stars for that spot; a leap this season can entrench him even higher as his national profile rises. It doesn’t hurt Tatum rises to the occasion in front of national audiences, putting up gaudy numbers when the spotlight shines brightest.

Of course, Tatum appeared to be on the verge of elevating his scoring to another level late last season. He put up 60 points in an insane comeback win over the Spurs, 50 points in the play-in game against the Wizards then another 50-point game in the Celtics’ lone win of the playoffs over the Nets.

Tatum had a stellar April, averaging 29.7 points per game while getting to the free-throw line consistently. That’s one key to rounding out his game: getting easier points by drawing fouls. Tatum’s already a scorer, but getting a few more points through trips to the line should add even more to his efficiency.

Tatum had a past strange season, starting off the year hot but then contracting COVID-19. He was transparent about the recovery process and added he needed to take an inhaler before games months after his return. Once he looked more like himself, the numbers started to back up his health.

He’s still far from a finished product, still years away from hitting his athletic prime. There are areas of his game he must improve, including on the playmaking side. He’s upped his assist numbers, but that’s one area — team basketball — first-year Boston coach Ime Udoka said he wants to improve for both Tatum and Brown.

Tatum was fortunate when he was drafted No. 3 overall in 2017 by the Celtics. He was immediately thrust onto a playoff team, where he developed his game while showing he can play winning basketball. Even as Tatum developed his game further, the C’s were still competitive (last season notwithstanding).

That’s a privilege. Some of his colleagues around the league are considered talented scorers but not winners. It took Devin Booker an NBA Finals run to rid himself of that reputation. A guy like Zach Lavine still has that energy to him as the scoring numbers look great, but the record doesn’t.

Tatum’s reputation, as of now, is still solid. A disappointing 2021-22 season could cause some detractors — especially as the C’s mold into becoming his team. That’s a lot of responsibility, but he’s shown at least in spurts that he can carry Boston to victory. The next step is improvement and consistency, which could vault Tatum further up every person’s NBA player ranking.

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