US basketball

Are we about to see the best of Jayson Tatum?

Naveen Ganglani
Are we about to see the best of Jayson Tatum?

BEST PLAYER? Jayson Tatum is dark horse candidate for an MVP award.


Jayson Tatum is capable of moments where his talent alone can be a remarkable display of superstar virtuoso

Summer international tournaments are often a reliable sign of which young gems in the NBA are bound for career seasons. 

Take a look back at the 2008 Redeem Team which won gold in the Beijing Olympics, a squad propelled by legendary names like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, and Chris Bosh, among others.

In the 2008-2009 season, all of them had remarkable campaigns: Kobe won his first title post-Shaq and punctuated his reputation of being the best basketball player in the world at that time.

James, meanwhile, won his first MVP in a dominant season for Cleveland which signified his imminent reign as a “GOAT” candidate. The man who spoiled his party, Howard, led Orlando to the finals, while Wade, Anthony, and Bosh enjoyed career seasons.

If anything, that season marked the passing of the torch from the old guard to the new.

The young talent that played for Team USA in #Tokyo2020 wasn’t as blockbuster, but 3 promising All-Stars stand out: Zach LaVine, Bam Adebayo, and of course, Jayson Tatum.

Only Adabeyo and Tatum have enjoyed the playoff success that LaVine hopes to experience with an improved Chicago roster in 2022. 

Bam made the finals with the Heat in the bubble while Tatum, a good friend of his, has made two conference title appearances with the Celtics, but still lacks a finals appearance in his already-impressive and still-budding resume.

Tatum has already displayed the signs of being an offensive juggernaut, highlighted by a masterful 50-point performance in Boston’s Game 3 win against a complete Brooklyn Nets, who are the betting favorites to win the title this coming season. 

The St. Louis native’s playmaking and rebounding have improved every year of his career, while his balance of when to attack the basket and when to settle for jumpers, while far from flawless, is better than ever.

There comes a point in basketball when analytics, scheming, and momentum all get out of the way in favor of individual brilliance. Tatum is capable of moments where his talent alone can be a remarkable display of superstar virtuoso. 

Is he someone who can be the best player on a championship team?


But as often is the case, theory sounds simpler than practicality.

Tatum spent the summer matching up against Kevin Durant, who with Giannis Antetokounmpo are widely considered as arguably the best players in the NBA today. It should come as no surprise that their respective teams are considered the top dogs of the East.

Battling Draymond Green and Jrue Holiday in practice inevitably improves one’s ball-handling ability, while having to contain sharpshooters like Damian Lillard and Devin Booker surely gave Tatum the best lessons on how to shuffle his feet against speedier playmakers. 

There’s sneaky appeal on a Dark Horse-Tatum-MVP season. While it’s been long established that he is Boston’s best player, this feels like the first time it will truly feel like his team. 

Kyrie Irving was the Celtics’ franchise guy in Tatum’s first two seasons, and after his unceremonious departure, Kemba Walker came in as the new max-player free-agent acquisition who warranted his chunk of usage.

Kemba has returned home to New York, where he can thrive anew. The days of Gordon Hayward taking shot attempts away from Tatum is long gone. He is the better player over Brown. Tatum now carries the reins of a historic franchise. How will he respond to this added leadership, only two years after becoming legally allowed to drink alcohol in the United States?

If anything stops a run to the MVP, it might be his team. 

The Celtics aren’t in danger of missing the playoffs. Their potential is better than projections of being below the top-4 teams in the East. Will they crack it for homecourt? It’s a tough pitch to sell against an improved conference. They would need luck to break their way, like a major injury to Miami or Atlanta, the expected midfielders following the prohibitive favorites and the defending champions. 

(Philadelphia is omitted from the list because of the uncertainty surrounding the 76ers and Ben Simmons.)

There’s potential with the Cs. Schroder at below $6M is a good deal, while extending Marcus Smart, although a bit risky because of injury history, gives new head coach Ime Udoka a versatile piece, especially on defense. Celtic fans love them some Marcus. 

If Al Horford can show a semblance of what he was in his first Boston tenure, it’ll be significant to their success. Josh Richardson’s isn’t great, but he isn’t bad.

When all else fails, there’s a trade waiting to happen for Boston. Brad Stevens, who now calls the shots in the front office instead of the playbook, will have pieces to work with for potential deals. 

The clock will continue to tick on Bradley Beal’s possible trade request out of Washington, assuming he doesn’t sign another extension with the Wizards. Beal and Tatum are good friends, so considering the desire of star players to team-up in the modern NBA in this hypothetical situation, it isn’t hard to picture both of them wearing the same jersey.

These current Celtics aren’t deep enough to withstand a major injury to even one of Tatum or Brown and be guaranteed a postseason berth, thus that lack of depth might ultimately be their undoing. Nevertheless, that only means there will be more responsibility for Tatum to carry nightly, both on the court and in the locker room. 

And with him taking center stage, the smart money is to wager on Tatum having a career year. While that may not be enough to win MVP or take Boston far into the postseason, that doesn’t mean it won’t be one hell of a show. –