The NBA is filled with plenty of young stars, and one of them happens to be leading the Boston Celtics back to the top of the league. 22 year-old Jayson Tatum has taken his game to another level this season leading the Celtics to the third best record in the Eastern Conference.
Tatum is extremely young, and with a great coach and plenty of solid pieces around him, I believe he can be the face of the league in the near future.
As of right now, when people talk about the faces of the NBA, they typically say LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, or Giannis Antetokounmpo to name just a few. In a few seasons, James, Curry, and Durant will all be getting up in age and someone will need to overtake their positions as the faces of the league.
Plenty of people will argue that Antetokounmpo, Luka Dončić, or Zion Williamson are more likely to be the best player in the league once those other stars get older, but I would argue Jayson Tatum should also be considered in that conversation as well.
First, I would like to take a look at his first three seasons and how he has developed so far in the league. In his rookie year, Tatum was not expected to be one of the leaders on the Celtics, as Boston had just traded for Kyrie Irving and signed Gordon Hayward in free agency.
Unfortunately, Hayward had the nasty leg injury in the season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but that meant Tatum was going to be even more significant to the Celtics for his rookie season.
Jayson Tatum had a very solid rookie season starting all 80 games he played in and scoring 13.9 points per game at 47.5% from the field and 43.4% from three. He also averaged 5.0 rebounds per game and 1.6 assists per game. Then, the stock of Tatum significantly rose in the 2017-2018 NBA Playoffs.
With Kyrie Irving out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, the Celtics were now missing Irving and Gordon Hayward for their playoff run. That meant that Tatum, Al Horford, and Jaylen Brown would need to lead the team if they wanted to win a playoff series or two.
The Celtcis got by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round and defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round to set up a matchup with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Led by head coach Brad Stevens, the Celtics played as a collective group, and it helped them send the Eastern Conference Finals to a Game 7. The Celtics eventually lost the game and were eliminated from the playoffs, but Jayson Tatum showed plenty of ruthlessness to attack LeBron James.
With a little less than seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Tatum attacked the basket with his left hand, and he had to have known he was going to meet James at the rim. Tatum posterized LeBron for all the world to see giving fans a glimpse of what to see from the Celtics forward for years to come.
Jayson Tatum finished the 2017-2018 NBA Playoffs with 18.5 points per game, which was a significant increase from the regular season. Even with a higher volume of shots, Tatum shot 47.1% from the field showing his ability to be a very efficient scorer.
Coming off an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, the Boston Celtics were optimistic about another deep playoff run with a healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, but many were concerned about how the team would mesh between the stars and the young players who thrived in the playoffs.
Kyrie Irving, who had always been known for taking a high volume of shots, would be taking away opportunities from the growth of guys like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. It was going to be interesting to see how much Tatum would improve with Kyrie Irving back at the lead of the Celtics.
The Boston Celtics took a while to figure out a consistent rotation while trying to bring Irving and Hayward back, but finished 49-33 for the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference. Boston went on to sweep the Indiana Pacers in the first round, but lost in 5 games to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Jayson Tatum averaged 15.7 points per game in the regular season shooting 45% from the field and 37.3% from three. He also averaged a solid 6 rebounds per game and 2.1 assists per game. His stats were very similar in the postseason averaging 15.2 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game, and 1.9 assists per game.
Overall, Tatum had a solid second year in the NBA, but things needed to change in Boston for the former Duke Blue Devil to hit his full potential.
The biggest thing that stood in the way of Jayson Tatum rising to an elite level was Kyrie Irving. Irving is one of the best point guards in the NBA, and there is no denying that he is a superstar in this league.
Jayson Tatum proved in the 2017-2018 postseason that if he had the ball in his hands, he gave his team a great chance to win. So when Kyrie Irving left the Celtics for the Brooklyn Nets this past off-season, most expected to see even more from Jayson Tatum.
Even with the acquisition of elite scorer Kemba Walker, people still expected more shots for Jayson Tatum in the 2019-2020 season. Through 59 games, Tatum has been fantastic for the Boston Celtics showing all the qualities of a franchise player.
With 23.6 points per game along with 7.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, Tatum showed his ability to lead the Celtics all season long. These stats were a significant increase from his first two seasons in the league, and that led to him being a 2020 NBA All-Star. There’s no denying that Tatum will be a All-Star for years to come.
Now, why do I believe that Jayson Tatum will be a future MVP and possible face of the entire league? First, let’s take a look at all the different things Tatum does for the Celtics on both ends of the floor.
Offensively, Tatum has the ability to score in plenty of different ways. At 6’8, Tatum can hit shots above defenders from mid-range and beyond the three point line.
He has the natural ability to get his jumper on the catch or off the dribble making his jump shot even harder to defend. His size also allows him to post up smaller defenders and make shots with his back to the basket.
Another important thing about the offense skills Tatum has is his ability to dribble the ball. His increase in assists per game has improved in each of his first three years in the league showing he can be a solid playmaker while being a scorer.
His dribbling ability also allows him to take the ball off the dribble allowing him to show a great first step to get past his defender.
Tatum is extremely athletic and shows his ability to go to the rim and dunk over taller defenders. For me, there’s no denying that Tatum has an elite offensive package that he will continue to polish as he gets into the prime of his career.
Something I believe that is very underrated about the game of Tatum is his defense. With his 6’11 wingspan, he absolutely has the capability to be a lockdown defender against the top wings in the game.
Nobody talks about his defensively capabilities, yet he is still averaging 1.4 steals per game and nearly a block per game as well. Tatum is certainly known for his offense, but I predict he will be an All-Defensive team player as his game grows.
Another thing that will contribute to how good Tatum will become is the success of the Boston Celtics as a whole. The organization is one of the best in the league, and I see no reason why Tatum would want to leave with their structure of their current roster.
GM Danny Ainge has done a great job at filling out the roster with a great mix of stars and great role players along with finding an excellent head coach.
Jaylen Brown is another great wing player who has the ability to do it on both ends of the floor. Kemba Walker is a great scorer who also has been a great playmaker and is a fantastic locker room guy. Marucs Smart is an elite defender at the guard position and understands his role for the Celtics. Daniel Thesis has been a great surprise for the Celtics, as he’s a productive big man in the starting lineup for most of the season.
I believe the Celtics are set up to win at least one championship with this current core.
Yes, you can absolutely build an argument for guys like Giannis, Luka, and Zion to become the face of the NBA. This will definitely be a continuous argument that goes on as long as LeBron James is in the league competing at a high level.
With Jayson Tatum showing so much improvement in his third season on both ends of the floor, along with playing a bigger market than most teams in the league, I believe Jayson Tatum is ready to take the league by storm and become the future face of the NBA.