Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are both officially elite NBA players. We’ve watched them grow over the last several years and knew that their primes were still yet to come. Both have exceeded expectations in past playoffs, Tatum made his first All-Star game last year, and both are on track to make it this year. This season is still only about 20% done, but both young Celtics stars look poised to only get even better as the season progresses.
Offensively Jayson Tatum was always the better player. He started his rookie year as an already polished scorer coming out of Duke. He had a couple ups and downs in his first few years, but since then, he has figured out how to efficiently be a number one option. Tatum shoots well and is finally starting to get to the foul line. He suffered a COVID-19 setback that caused him to miss a couple weeks, but he’s showing no signs of slowing down. His points per game are up from 23 to 27 this season. Last season, he made the All-NBA Third Team and only looks to improve this year. Offensively, the only thing left for him to do is get more foul shots.
That’s not to say that Jaylen Brown wasn’t a good offensive player also. He’s made big shots when it’s counted, learned to attack the basket better and improved his handle dramatically (something many thought he would always lack). This season, however, he’s taken those skills to a new level. He’s made “the leap.”
His usage is up to almost 30%, among the highest in the league. His shooting from three is at 45% and he’s averaging 30 points per 36 minutes. These aren’t just All-Star numbers, they’re All-NBA numbers. Jaylen is in serious contention for being the Celtics best player.
Tatum, coming out of college, was a minus defender, a characteristic he dropped as soon as possible. Brad Stevens has consistently held the Celtics in or near the top 5 in defensive rating over the last few years. Tatum has been a huge factor in that. He hit his real stride as a defender following his rookie season. He’s been great on-ball, defending well while not committing fouls. He’s learned when to rotate and has been able to use his size to his advantage.
Brown, conversely, was always known as the defensive player. His high athleticism and focus gave him a defensive edge that we always saw. So far, he fouls slightly more than Tatum, but he also has more blocks and steals. He knows where to be and how to make opponents work.
This has created a tough defensive perimeter that can cause trouble for any offense in the league. The Celtics don’t have the best defensive centers, but they can use these two to defend both inside and out; utilizing their versatile size.
The “J-Team” is clearly enjoy playing together and they work well off each other. “Fire and Ice” is what they call themselves. The question of ego will of course eventually come into play. “Will one of them want their own team?” is the question on most outsiders minds. Optimistically, these two players might just be perfect fits. They appear happy to see each other succeed and are more concerned with team wins than individual accomplishments. Growing together from such a young age is a big reason why they’re games have molded so well around each other. Instead of one or both of them entering into an already established culture, they had the opportunity to establish that culture and develop what it means. They are genuine homegrown stars.
Celtics fans were always keeping an eye on Tatum and Brown and now so is every other NBA fan. The duo is top three in the league, at least. As they enter their prime, it is worth noting that this is only the beginning. Tatum and Brown are 22 and 24 years old, respectively, and still several years from their potential primes. They’ve thrived together despite still being so young and will surely only continue to win at a high-level.
(Photo: Brian Fluharty/USA Today)