;”>Jayson Tatum has already made a great case to start on opening night
The Boston Celtics finished their preseason undefeated, looking better than most thought they would for a roster with just four returning players. The starting unit looked like they were in mid season form, and the second unit looked like they will cause a lot of problems for teams.
The one real blemish is the second starting big next to Al Horford, and that is expected to now carry over into the regular season.
Aron Baynes appeared to solve these problems, but his hyper extended knee puts that on delay. Marcus Morris finally got his game action, but he looked far from ready, and should expect a minutes restriction as he tries to catch up.
After those two there really is not another one of their regular bigs that has looked ready to start, and the best option is looking like small ball. We knew Jayson Tatum was going to be more NBA ready than most 19 year olds, but his ability to fit seamlessly in with the starters presents Stevens with his best starting unit option.
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We know the trio of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford will be starting, and after Marcus Smart asked to run the second unit, we were able to pencil in Jaylen Brown as the starter (which could also be subject to change at this point). Now, it is looking like the youth revolution may already be upon us, as Tatum has proven that he can be a starter on this team.
The best sign is that Tatum has shown no indications of doing anything to slow the team down. He is not instigating the offense, but he is maintaining ball movement, and making sure all of his shots are in rhythm. He is not resorting to isolation unless the team needs it, and he is using his length to have a dynamic impact. Given how good the ball movement has already been on this team, Tatum is looking like one of the most reliable finishers on the team.
There is little doubt now, Tatum is the best offense option for the starting unit. He will score on all three levels, presenting a matchup nightmare for any opposing defense.
The one concern is now with the size. One of Brown, Tatum or Hayward is going to have to defend an opposing big, and that is where the risk is with Tatum. Rebounding could also become problematic, but the overall size of the team has drastically improved, meaning it will not kill them like it did last season.
The Celtics really needed Baynes because he is the only one that offered that traditional size. He is the only one that can offer that stable force in the offensive lineup. As good as the offense can be with Tatum in there, they know it is still going to be stellar no matter who the fifth starter is.
Tatum offers a new level of potential offense, but opens up a lot more risk on the defensive end. The problem is that there really is no other option that can fill that void, and if they are accepting that they will not have that traditional size as long as Baynes is out, then Tatum brings the highest upside to the starting unit.
As it stands now, we still do not know for sure. People are giving Tatum the edge because he was the option in the preseason and he looked phenomenal playing with the first unit. Whether or not Tatum holds onto that position is a different story.
There are a lot of things that Brad Stevens still needs to figure out, including potential scoring problems on the second unit. Tatum would be the number one offensive option on the second unit, and just like Smart can have a bigger impact because of how the second unit needs him, it could be a similar situation with Tatum too.
This is an opportunity that most did not expect Tatum to get on opening night, but it feels like there is not much of a choice, unless Stevens believes Morris is ready for a full load by the start of the regular season.
It will be fascinating to see what Stevens ultimately decides on the starting unit, but it would not be surprising at all if the starters change throughout the regular season. The good news is that Tatum has made it clear that he is a great option that is ready to have an impact on whatever unit he plays on.