Celtics need Tatum to become a no-questions-asked superstar in Year 3

Celtics need Tatum to become a no-questions-asked superstar in Year 3

A couple of things happened this week that made me think of Jayson Tatum. 

First, the Sixers signed Ben Simmons to a five-year max extension ahead of the final year of his rookie contract. Then, Bleacher Report put out its list of five breakout stars for the coming season, defined as players who had yet to become All-Stars but could in 2019-20. A command + F of "Tatum" yielded zero results. 

Both things should jump out at you with regard to Tatum. If he plays his cards (basketball) right, he's getting a contract like Simmons', either next summer or at the conclusion of his deal. 

But that list tells you at least some NBA observers don't see that happening, because that contract doesn't come unless Tatum ascends to the upper-echelon of NBA stars. We've assumed he would since his promising rookie season and subsequent playoff run, but Year 3 is the time for Tatum to actually start reaching for that ceiling. 

What if it doesn't happen? 

For starters, I'll cry myself to sleep every night, but this isn't about me. It's about the Celtics, who had one of the best players in the league and saw him mess up the team while he was here and the cap situation when he left. 

The Celtics more or less need Tatum to become that level of star, minus the headache. They need a peer for Kemba Walker, one who could even surpass the UConn product in the prime years of his career. 

That it didn't happen in Year 2 was frustrating. Tatum's points went up from 13.9 to 15.7 and his rebounds went from exactly five a game to six. Yet his player efficiency rating went down from 15.29 as a rookie to 15.13 in his second season, the latter of which ranked 138th in the league. The eye test didn't do major favors relative to expectations either, as his propensity for long 2s left everyone quick to angrily point to his offseason workouts with Kobe Bryant. 

In the end, Tatum's second year looked more like Jaylen Brown's second year than most probably anticipated. He scored more, but Tatum's .450 field goal percentage and .373 clip on 3s were lower than Brown's marks (.465, .393, respectively) in his second year. 

So, now the Celtics, having experienced a net loss of one star (Kyrie, Horford out; Kemba in), need another star. Ruling out Brown would be shortsighted, and I'm still not sure why so many have jumped ship completely on Gordon Hayward. 

Yet, Tatum is the one that seems like the sure thing, and it hasn't happened all the way yet. If he doesn't become an All-Star-caliber player this season, what was once considered the luxury of Brown and/or Hayward becoming great will become a necessity if the Celtics want to make any sort of noise this season. 

I think Tatum makes that step and becomes a fringe All-Star. Between his pedigree and his talent, it's seemingly within his grasp, but if he doesn't make that leap, it will hurt a hell of a lot more than it would had the Celtics been able to secure a multi-year commitment from Anthony Davis and/or Irving. 

That longterm plan took a big hit this summer. Tatum's the guy who can put it back on track. If he does and the Celtics find any frontcourt help, the Celtics can set themselves up to be one of the top teams in the East for years. If his development stalls, the C's could be looking at either continued roster shakeup or years in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. 

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Countdown to Celtics Camp: Who visits the hardware store?

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Countdown to Celtics Camp: Who visits the hardware store?

For Day 3 of our Countdown to Camp series, we asked our panel to take a trip to the hardware store and predict which Celtics player might bring home some of the NBA’s hardware by winning a postseason award.

Outside of maybe only Most Valuable Player, there’s an argument to be made that a Celtics player, coach, or executive could muscle their way into the conversation for the league’s other top honors. Alas, you’d have to rewind to the 2007-2008 season to find the last time the Celtics found themselves in that spotlight when Kevin Garnett won Defensive Player of the Year and Danny Ainge was Executive of the Year.

Celtics players haven’t muscled their way into the voting much in recent seasons. Last year, only Marcus Smart charted on an award while finishing eighth in Defensive Player of the Year. Jayson Tatum was third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2017-18, while Al Horford was fifth in Defensive Player of the Year balloting that season. Isaiah Thomas was fifth in both MVP and Most Improved voting for the 2016-17 campaign.

But if the Celtics are to outkick most prognosticator’s expectations this season, they’ll need someone on their roster to at least vault into the conversation for these awards.

So who is most likely to earn themselves a shiny trophy?

Our vote went to Marcus Smart for Sixth Man of the Year. With the glut of wing depth this season, we believe there’s a strong chance that Smart will initially shuffle back to his familiar bench role, allowing coach Brad Stevens to trot out a versatile starting lineup featuring Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and a big (with Enes Kanter the early favorite to hold that starter job initially).

Stevens has long preferred to deploy Smart in a reserve role, allowing Smart to set the tone for the second unit while also providing another ball-handler for the second group. The Celtics went away from that last season when Smart elevated from a bench role in November and started 60 games overall. Kyrie Irving routinely advocated for Smart, noting how much he enjoyed playing alongside him at the start of games, which only solidified Smart’s spot with the first unit.

A similar script could certainly unfold this season. But it would be the most Marcus Smart thing if he’s the player that embraces shuffling to the second unit and allows Hayward, Tatum, and Brown to play with the first group.

Yes, the Sixth Man award tends to honor a high-scoring player on one of the league’s top teams. But if the Celtics overachieve this season, there will be extra attention on the player(s) that spearheaded the second unit. Smart, with his All-Defense pedigree and improving offensive efficiency, could dive into the conversation for Sixth Man the same way he pounces on a loose ball.

Abby Chin: Gordon Hayward, Sixth Man of the Year

I believe Hayward will be almost — if not fully — back to his Utah self this season. But, with the glut of talent on the wing, and Hayward's ability to facilitate the offense on that second unit, it might make the most sense for him to come off the bench again. I think Hayward will finish games on the court, he just may not start there.


Sherrod Blakely: Brad Stevens, Coach of the Year

The Celtics will finish with a record that exceeds the expectations of many, and will include wins over East favorites Philly and Milwaukee.


Max Lederman: Gordon Hayward, Most Improved

Hayward has been in the lab all summer working on getting back to the player he was before the injury. He had a few flashes last season, but was a shell of his former self. I know this award tends to go to a young breakout player but I think a really strong start to the season could make some folks consider taking a different approach with their votes.

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Isaiah Thomas out 6 to 8 weeks after latest injury for ex-Celtics star

Isaiah Thomas out 6 to 8 weeks after latest injury for ex-Celtics star

Isaiah Thomas just can't seem to stay healthy since leaving the Boston Celtics two years ago.

Thomas underwent left thumb surgery Wednesday and is expected to miss six to eight weeks as he recovers, the Washington Wizards announced.

Thomas suffered the injury -- a rupture of the radial collateral ligament in his thumb -- during "routine workouts" Monday, according to the team.

It's another tough break for the 30-year-old point guard, who's appeared in a total of 76 games over the last three seasons due to a nagging hip injury that required surgery last March.

Thomas' hip injury, which he sustained during his career season for the Celtics in 2016-17, essentially derailed his career to date, as he's bounced between the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets since then.

Thomas finally appeared healthy after signing with the Wizards in July, but it appears his Washington debut will have to wait. The Celtics' first matchup with the Wizards isn't until Nov. 13 -- exactly eight weeks from Wednesday -- so there's a chance Thomas can return for a Boston reunion.

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