The 2017 NBA offseason was one for the books. From the coalition of Oklahoma City’s “big three” to Kyrie’s dramatic breakup with LeBron, the soap opera aspect of the sport was in full effect. Another huge part of the offseason was the admittance of one of the deepest rookie classes in NBA history.
Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Kuzma, Dennis Smith Jr. and Lonzo Ball (yes, check the stats) have all shown that they belong in the NBA, but there is one player who is standing out over the rest — Jayson Tatum.
The Celtics were in a precarious position with the third overall pick in the NBA draft. Markelle Fultz seemed like the favorite for the first pick held by the Philadelphia 76ers and the Lakers at No. 2 were leaking out reports saying that front office members weren’t impressed with Ball’s private workouts. Even if Fultz and Ball were picked as predicted, the Celtics were faced with the decision to take either Josh Jackson or Tatum.
Celtics president Danny Ainge made the right choice in Tatum, and the rookie was proving it in early moments.
I love the NBA Summer League. I think it’s incredible for several reasons: First, I would rather cut off my left pinky finger in the summer than watch an MLB game. Secondly, I’m a basketball fanatic and I like watching players who I loved in college dance their last dance before realizing the NBA isn’t for them. And finally, I like knowing who’s going to be good as a rookie so I can make sure that I’m smarter than all my friends and that my fantasy team is salvages my terrible fantasy football seasons.
Tatum and Jackson put up incredibly similar numbers during the summer, but here’s the beauty of the summer league — it’s all about the eye-test.
No one rattles off NBA Summer League stats off the dome, but people do remember the big plays. Tatum scored 21 points and hit the game-winner in his very first game and followed it up with a double-double in his second game. The one-and-done out of Duke averaged 17.7 points and eight rebounds in the summer league and looked like one of the most polished rookies in his class.
In his one year at Duke, Tatum averaged 16.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He was dominant in isolation, loved shooting off the dribble and looked comfortable shooting with a hand in his face. The one knock on him was that he wasn’t an explosive athlete, but he made up for it by being one of the smoothest players in the NCAA.
It’s a good thing that Celtics coach Brad Stevens doesn’t believe in traditional positions because it’s hard to classify the 6-foot-8 Tatum. The 19-year old with a 6-foot-11 wingspan can guard almost all five positions on the court, proving it through college ball by using his body effectively down low and out wide on the court. All of this was evident in the summer.
Now, the Celtics weren’t in dire need of another star coming into the 2017-2018 season. They had upgraded from Isaiah Thomas to Kyrie Irving at point guard and lured Gordon Hayward away from Utah to reunite with Stevens, his college coach at Butler.
The C’s looked like the team to beat in the East before the season, but all confidence went out the window with Hayward’s ankle injury, one that might keep him out all year after just five minutes of playing time in green and white. Tatum was the one who picked up the minutes in that game, recording a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds in the first NBA game of his career. He became the first rookie to record a double-double on opening night for Boston since Larry Bird did it in 1979.
Tatum has scored in double figures in 38 of his 45 games played and apparently has jumped over the metaphorical wall that rookies hit once in the league. Tatum’s development seems to be on the fast track to superstardom after the halfway point of the season.
He was named the Kia NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for December, ranking second among Eastern Conference rookies in scoring and fourth in rebounding during the month. Tatum also recorded two of his three career double-doubles and helped the Celtics go 11-6 to remain 2.5 games ahead of the Toronto Raptors in first place.
Tatum’s defense has also been outstanding as well. On Jan. 5 against the Minnesota Timberwolves, he became the second teenager since the 1983-84 season to record six blocks and three steals in the same game.
The Celtics are 34-11 so far this season, holding the second best record in the NBA behind the Golden State Warriors, and it owes a lot of its success to the rookie Tatum.
Whether being an absolute beast off of the pick-and-roll:
Or dunking in 20-pound chainmail:
Tatum can do it all.