When Jayson Tatum’s 14-foot fadeaway clanged off the front iron on his first shot of the 2019 preseason last week against Charlotte, it was fair to wonder if he was truly committed to hunting better shots this season.
He followed with two finger rolls, including one over two defenders after attacking off the dribble from the high post, and a corner 3-pointer — all of this in little more than a minute span — and Celtics fans were probably a little woozy thinking about what could be this season.
Tatum has since owned his sophomore struggles, dismissed those that want to blame Kobe Bryant for his mid-range penchant last year, and reaffirmed a desire to make the sort of leap that even he was expecting last season.
The formula for that leap might be as simple as embracing a high-efficiency shot profile and letting his natural talents take over. And the preseason glimpses have been super encouraging.
It’s a successful season for Tatum if…
…he keeps his promise to prioritize 3-pointers and layups. Tatum’s shot chart early in the preseason has been an analytics dream with nearly half of his attempts beyond the 3-point arc and another 40 percent from 10 feet or closer. Good things happened when Tatum was on the court last season, despite his questionable shot selection, and even better things will happen if he maximizes his offensive efficiency. A really successful season might just be Tatum emerging as Boston’s No. 1 offensive option by the time the playoffs roll around.
It’s a disappointing season for Tatum if…
…he falls into old habits of settling for mid-range jumpers and lazy fadeaways. Yes, he’s talented enough to make a lot of those shots, and still will. But he’s also good enough to probe off the pick and roll, get defenders off the ground with a head fake, and finish closer to the rim. It’d be disappointing if he wasn’t in the conversation for a trip to the All-Star Game.
Thirty-five NBA players averaged 20 points or more per game last season. Even with all the obvious offensive talent that Boston has on its roster this season, Tatum should be in that category this year. He must play with more of a killer instinct and be someone that wants the ball in his hands in crunch time or when things are going sideways for the Celtics. But, building off what Gregg Popovich stressed to him at the FIBA World Championships, Tatum must also find ways to impact the game beyond scoring — whether that's with his length on the defensive end or being able to create for others when defenses collapse on him. Tatum has only scratched the surface of his potential to this point.
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