BOSTON – On Thursday night, Jayson Tatum scored 12 points which included a basket in the fourth quarter that gave Boston its biggest lead of the night, 12 points, before settling in for a 96-89 win at Milwaukee.
Just 24 hours earlier, Philadelphia’s Markelle Fultz was inactive (shoulder) in the Sixers’ 105-104 home loss to Houston and will remain that way for at least two more games.
It’s still early, but the Celtics are off to a fast start when it comes to which team came out ahead in the trade prior to last June’s draft that netted the Celtics Tatum who was chosen with the third overall pick while the Sixers took Fultz with the top overall pick.
Statistically speaking, it’s not even close.
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Tatum has better numbers when it comes to scoring (14.2 versus 6.0), rebounds (6.6 versus 2.3), assists (2.0 versus 1.8) and minutes played (33.0 versus 18.9).
And his defense?
That’s better in many areas as well, including defensive rating (94.5 for Tatum, 106.8 for Fultz).
But the biggest benefit more than anything else with Boston winding up with Tatum, is his impact on winning which the Celtics (3-2) are hoping to continue doing tonight at Miami.
The 6-foot-8 rookie was praised for his shooting touch that was aided by having exceptional footwork which reminded some of Celtics legend Paul Pierce, when Tatum left Duke after just one season.
But Tatum’s time on the floor with the Celtics has been largely due to what he does as a defender, something that will be once again put to the test tonight against the Heat.
Like the Celtics, the Miami Heat play a brand of position-less basketball with multiple ball-handlers who can bring the floor up and initiate the offense on their own. All of Miami’s projected starters tonight except center Bam Adebayo (he’s in for Hassan Whiteside who is out with a bruised left knee injury) fall under that category.
But unlike the Celtics, Miami’s defense has not benefited from having that kind of versatility. Of course, Whiteside being out for all but the season-opener, has been a key to the Heat’s defensive struggles.
In four games this season, the Heat has a defensive rating of 107.7 which ranks No. 23 in the NBA while the Celtics’ defensive rating of 95.9 which ranks third in the league.
Having players who can seamlessly shift from one position to another, are becoming increasingly more valuable in the NBA today.
Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics have had their sights on adding players with a versatile skill set for years.
Leading up to the 2015 NBA draft, the Celtics were extremely eager to trade up to acquire a player like that.
His name is Justise Winslow, who wound up being selected by the Heat with the 10th overall pick.
Injuries have limited Winslow’s impact in Miami, but he has shown promise defensively due to his size (6-7, 225), strength and ability to defend multiple positions.
When it comes to defending different types of players, the play of Al Horford has really stood out this season for Boston.
They come into tonight’s game having won three in a row, with each of those wins being fueled in large part by Horford’s play defensively.
But in Thursday’s win over Milwaukee, Horford also came up big offensively with a season-high 27 points to go with nine rebounds and four assists.
Now in his 11th NBA season, Horford has an eye for players with the potential to play at a high level at both ends of the floor.
Horford said earlier that Tatum is “as ready” a rookie as he’s ever played with.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has echoed similar praise for the 19-year-old Tatum, which has the team’s decision to trade away the top overall pick in last June’s NBA draft to go down two spots and use the pick to get Tatum and a future first-round pick, one that has paid off already.
“He’s going to be a really good NBA player for a long time,” Stevens said of Tatum. “He brings a lot to the table, and he’s really smart. He has a savvy that I think you can tell when he’s out on the court.”