If you were to design a modern NBA player from the ground up, what would he look like? Chances are he’d be “long,” but still strong. Athletic, but with great body control. A difference maker on both ends of the court. Smart enough to make the “right” play but clutch enough to step into big moments. Oh, and he’d have to be a knockdown three point shooter.
In short, he’d probably look something like Jayson Tatum.
Before we go any further, I have to emphasize that we’re talking about a 19-year-old kid here. Rookies of any age don’t come into the league with the poise that Tatum has shown thus far. Most have big league talent and can show hints of potential in short bursts, but very, very look as comfortable as Jayson does already.
Which begs the question: If this is how he looks as a rookie, just how much better can he get? Getting to an All-Star level doesn’t seem that far off. Can he become a franchise guy? An MVP candidate? An NBA champion? How bold dare we dream?
The pragmatist in me wants to pump the breaks, let the kid be a kid, and not put too much pressure on his teenage shoulders. The fan in me wants to clear a space in the rafters for him. I guess we’ll have to wait and see and hope and pray and try ever so hard to simply enjoy the ride as we go.
Think of it this way: at the start of the season, the rumblings were that the Celtics would be keeping an eye on the Anthony Davis situation in New Orleans. The Pelicans aren’t motivated to deal their star any time soon, but it isn’t hard to see a path to them needing to in a year or two. The thinking early this season was that a package to get Davis would need to include multiple picks, salary filler, and one or both of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. That already seems steep. I predict that by the time the Pelicans are ready and willing to trade Anthony Davis, Jayson Tatum will already be too valuable to include in any deal, regardless of the other pieces involved.
He has that kind of potential. Obviously he’s not there yet and a (Larry) Bird in hand is worth two (with high potential) in the Garden. But Tatum is not that far off.
What are his weaknesses? Can you name any? Whatever limitations you could have pointed to have been addressed in his warp-speed development. We all knew he could make shots, but could he extend his range to 3 point territory? Well, yeah, I think that’s taken care of (he’s currently 2nd in the league in 3pt%).
Sometimes he’s been a little too intent to make the “right” play and deferring to his teammates instead of aggressively looking for his own shots. Well, now he’s breaking down guys off the dribble and dunking ferociously on people. He also happens to be the 2nd highest scorer in the 4th quarter (behind only Kyrie).
You can’t always assume that a player’s numbers are going to increase when he gets more touches, but Jayson is already so efficient that it isn’t hard to imagine him averaging well over 20 a game for years to come.
It is very hard not to get super excited about this kid’s future. He’s a walking embodiment of everything we hoped the Nets picks would turn into. With that many picks from that struggling franchise, all you wanted was to hit on at least one of them. The Celtics won the lottery, doubled down on assets by trading it for the 3rd and a future pick, and got the best guy (thus far) in the draft plus another potentially high pick in the process. Oh and by the way, they got Jaylen Brown and Kyrie Irving (and James Young I guess) in the process.
The point has been made time and time again. Stars run this league, superstars win championships. We needed a superstar (multiple if possible). Kyrie has already won one with LeBron and he’ll be looking to win one with the Celtics. It isn’t hard to see a scenario where Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum become the core of a championship squad. I’ll go a step further and say that I can see a future where Tatum is the best of that group.
Too much? Too soon? Am I getting carried away? Perhaps. Ok, probably. I just know that he’s already better than anyone expected him to be and I’m willing to leave open the possibility that he’ll be something very special for the Celtics for many years to come.