For the fourth time this season, Jayson Tatum took the court against one of the two title contenders in Los Angeles and played like the best player on the court. While he’s taken his game to a new level over the last month or two in general, nothing has stood out more than his dominance when he’s shared the court with some of the game’s best players in Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. On the offensive end, he’s welcomed, and even sought out, the challenge of attacking these elite players. On the defensive end, whether he’s found himself matched up on Davis in the post or one of James, George or Leonard out on the perimeter, he’s been unfazed at what would have once been a mismatch. These days, he not only looks like he belongs in those match-ups, he knows he belongs, and it’s that confidence that has fueled his recent surge.
After the Celtics fell to the Lakers 114-112 on Sunday afternoon, LeBron James took to Instagram to praise the 21-year old rising superstar, with a photo captioned “that boi to the left of me is an ABSOLUTE PROBLEM!! Keep going #YoungKing”
No matter how you feel about LeBron as a Celtics fan, there’s no downplaying how much a statement like that means coming from him. LeBron has been known to praise the rising stars in today’s league on occasion, but it’s not every day that he does so to this extent, even going as far as to call him “young king”, an obvious reference to his own nickname.
Tatum’s recent performance hasn’t only caught LeBron’s eye, though. According to Jayson himself, multiple players came up to him over the All-Star break to acknowledge his dominant play against the Clippers in the Celtics’ double overtime win before the break.
Even better to see has been that Tatum is finally getting the national recognition that he deserves and has deserved for some time. Last season, Jayson was the victim of both poor team chemistry and fit as well as unrealistic expectations from the fans and media. As a 20 year old in his second season, people expected him to make the superstar leap that we’re seeing him make now because of the way he played throughout the 2018 playoffs. It was clear to many of us that those expectations were ridiculous, but it didn’t stop him from being labeled everything from a “guy who peaked his rookie season” to “a guy whose ceiling was as a good #2 option.” Hell, people even went as far as to say that Ainge and the Celtics fumbled the Nets draft picks that were used on he and his fellow rising star Jaylen Brown. Now, Tatum is proving those doubters wrong right before our eyes, and the narrative surrounding him couldn’t have made a faster 180.
n his two games this season against the Lakers, Tatum has averaged 34 points, 5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1 steal and 1 block in just 33 minutes per game on 58% shooting from the field, 60% from three, and 83% from the free throw line. He has been a +19 per game in those two games as well.
In his two games against the Clippers, Tatum has played 44 minutes per game and averaged 34.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2 assists along with 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks. In those match-ups he has shot 55% from the field and 50% from three point range.
The Celtics have gone 2-2 in those games, however those losses have been relatively encouraging as the first was a 3-point overtime loss to the Clippers in which Gordon Hayward was out with an injury, and the second was yesterday’s 2-point loss to the Lakers without Kemba Walker playing. Additionally, both losses came on the road. If these match-ups have proven anything, it’s that the Celtics can give any team in the league a run for their money when Jayson Tatum plays at this level.
The NBA community is officially on notice, and all eyes are on Jayson Tatum to see if he can help carry this Celtics team to the Eastern Conference Finals and beyond. The best part is, his ceiling is still nowhere close to being reached.
Photo: (Marcio Jose Sanchez – AP Photo)