Celtics

Who could become NBA's best player? Don't forget Jayson Tatum, says Stephen A. Smith

Who could become NBA's best player? Don't forget Jayson Tatum, says Stephen A. Smith

The debate over which young star will eventually become the NBA's best player usually comes down to two players -- Dallas Mavericks point guard Luka Doncic and New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson.

And it makes sense for these players to dominate the discussion. 

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Doncic won the Rookie of the Year Award last season and has emerged in 2019-20 as a top MVP candidate on a Mavericks team sitting in seventh place in a very competitive Western Conference. Williamson was the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and took the league by storm from the moment he made his debut in January. His athleticism is off the charts, and he's already averaging  23.6 points per game without a polished offensive skill set.

You couldn't go wrong predicting either of these two stars becoming the league's best player someday. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, however, wants to throw another player into the conversation, and that's Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum. 

Smith made his case Wednesday on ESPN's "First Take". He's very much impressed with Tatum's all-around talent.

“I love what I’ve seen from Zion (Williamson), I love what I’ve seen from Luka. Both of those candidates clearly have the potential. But I got news for you. It would be a mistake to omit Jayson Tatum from this conversation," Smith said. "He is right there, and he can overtake anybody. He’s got that kind of skill, that kind of length, that kind of athleticism. That kind of defensive prowess as well. He’s got the package, man. He’s something special.”

Check out the full segment in the video below:

Tatum absolutely belongs in the conversation, and one area where he stands out from Doncic and Williamson is his playoff success.

The Celtics star led his team to within a single victory of an NBA Finals berth in 2018. He led the C's in scoring during that playoff run while its two-best players, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, missed the entire postseason. Tatum went toe-to-toe with LeBron James and nearly beat him in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Tatum also is enjoying a breakout 2019-20 season. He's the leading scorer on the Eastern Conference's third-place team, and he also earned his first All-Star Game appearance. Tatum was the Eastern Conference's Player of the Month for February, too.

Doncic, Williamson and Tatum are three of the most talented and exciting players in basketball. Any one of them could emerge as the league's best player in the near future, and it would be wrong to leave Tatum out of the debate given his extraordinary two-way ability.

2020 NBA Restart: How would Celtics fare in playoff series vs. Heat?

2020 NBA Restart: How would Celtics fare in playoff series vs. Heat?

Miami is always a tough opponent come playoff time, but the Boston Celtics have every reason to feel confident they would prevail if the two were to meet in the playoffs in Orlando. 

In their two regular season matchups, the Celtics won both by an average of 13.5 points. 

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Making the victories even more impressive was Boston playing without some top players, as Marcus Smart (illness) missed the Celtics’ 112-93 win at the TD Garden on Dec. 4 while Jayson Tatum (groin) and Enes Kanter (hip) were both sidelined for the rematch, a 109-101 Celtics win, in Miami on Jan. 28. 

In both wins, Jaylen Brown was the one player the Heat had no answer for containing. After dropping a season-high 31 points on Miami in the first matchup, Brown was just as dominant in the second meeting when he scored 25 points, only to be outshined by Gordon Hayward’s 29. 

For the Celtics, both wins came down to their ability to force Miami into the Jimmy Butler show while limiting the overall impact of those around him.

But the Heat team Boston could see in the playoffs will be better than the squad that the C's faced earlier in the season. Miami has been a notoriously bad three-point shooting team for years. But after the All-Star break, the Heat averaged 15.5 made threes per game, which was fifth-best in the league. And their 40.8 percent shooting on threes after the break was tops in the league. 

The Celtics' starting five has been strong all season, and will look to continue along that path if the two meet up in the playoffs.

For Miami to pull off the upset, look for the Heat’s bench to play a major role. Miami’s second unit averages 41.3 points per game which ranks seventh in the NBA. They would face a Boston squad that’s allowing a league-low 33.6 bench points per game. Part of that strong defense after the break has been Boston’s board work. After the break, they have a rebounding percentage of .510 which ranks ninth in the league, while the Heat’s .496 rebounding percentage ranks 20th. 

PREDICTIONS FOR CELTICS-HEAT PLAYOFF SERIES

A. Sherrod Blakely: Miami is a better team now than it was during either of Boston’s two regular season wins. But Jayson Tatum’s meteoric rise combined with a healthy Kemba Walker will be too much for the Jimmy Butler-led Heat.

Prediction: Celtics in 5 games

Chris Forsberg: The Heat look a little different than the team Boston toppled twice in the regular season and added veteran, playoff-tested experience in Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder. While Jimmy Butler has a penchant for the big stage, he wasn’t able to get a loaded Philly roster out of the second round a year ago.

The task will be even more difficult here and Miami’s younger players will be challenged to maintain their regular-season production. If healthy, the Celtics have more pure talent overall and match up well against Miami’s small-ball ways.

Prediction: Celtics in 5 games

DJ Bean: We've seen Jimmy Butler's numbers drop in the postseason before, and while Bam Adebayo's a stud, they'd have the same problem virtually every team in the East will have: they just don't have the sheer number of stars Boston does. 

Prediction: Celtics in 5 or 6 games

Kara Lawson writes heartfelt tribute to Celtics after landing Duke job

Kara Lawson writes heartfelt tribute to Celtics after landing Duke job

Kara Lawson was only on the Celtics' coaching staff for one season, but it was clearly a special experience both for her and the team.

On Sunday, C's head coach Brad Stevens and some of the Celtics players both congratulated Lawson on her new job as head coach of the women's basketball team at Duke and described how much of an impact she made in her limited time in Boston.

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Marcus Smart was effusive in his praise for the former Olympic gold medalist, saying, "she became more than just my shooting coach, she became a longtime friend and somebody I know I can talk to if I ever need advice.”

On Wednesday morning, it was Lawson's turn to express her appreciation for the Celtics in an emotional social media post, writing, "These men have changed my life. I have loved my time with the Boston Celtics. Our players are authentic, intelligent, creative and passionate men. They motivated me every day to be my best for them."

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It’s been an emotional few days for me. And, while I couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity in front of me at Duke University, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the team I’m leaving behind. These men have changed my life. I have loved my time with the Boston Celtics. Our players are authentic, intelligent, creative and passionate men. They motivated me every day to be my best for them. They surprised me last night by all wearing @DukeWBB T-shirts for an incredible show of support before I head to Durham. I cried. They would probably laugh and tell you I’ve cried a lot these last few days but I will tell you having relationships with players that move you to those kinds of emotions is the most meaningful pursuit one can have as a coach. I love them and I will miss them.

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Seeing the entire C's contingent decked out in Duke women's basketball shirts makes you realize the genuine affection and appreciation the players built for Lawson in such a short time — and it's no surprise that Jayson Tatum is front and center in the picture as Lawson heads to Durham.

Enes Kanter, always a consistent presence on social media, summed up the photo with a perfect one-word caption: FAMILY.

With Lawson leaving the Orlando bubble, the Celtics are replacing her on the traveling coaching staff with Brandon Bailey, who is also in his first season as a Celtics assistant.