He and Tatum share very similar dimensions. Walker was a 6’9” forward with an inordinate wingspan. Tatum is a super-lanky 6’8” swing forward. Much like Jayson Tatum and Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker used his physicality to carve out space, swinging his shoulders and probing defenses with piercing jab steps. Walker’s repertoire included a shooter’s touch and an overpowering ability to drive the ball.
Here, one would think that I’m enumerating the elements of Jayson Tatum’s game, because he already does these things so well. But there is a singular skill that Antoine Walker could teach Jayson Tatum, one that Paul Pierce could not. And that is how to properly use his combination of size, finesse and speed in the post.
Forefathers and Sons
Selected third-overall in the 2017-18 NBA Draft, Jayson Tatum has had an interesting go of it with the Boston Celtics. This selection, at the time that it was made, was an objectionable one, to say the least. Tatum didn’t have the ostensible star-power that a Lonzo Ball or a Markelle Fultz came with, out of college.
What Boston selected, when they used their pick on Jayson Tatum, was the embodiment of an Ainge-Stevens pick: A versatile kid who buys in to a winning mentality, with a winning franchise. And like those who came before him, Jayson Tatum's first priority is to hang another championship banner up in the rafters of the Garden.
His performance, thus far, has been undeniably impressive. Tatum finds himself, about a halfway through his inaugural season, in the midst of the Rookie of the Year conversation. And deservedly so. He’s averaging 14.2 PPG and 5.6 RPG for the Celtics, and he's shooting lights out from 3-point territory.
He has certainly shown glimpses of his capacity to score in the paint. Opponents have seen variegated attacks from Tatum, winding and writhing his way to the bucket with lighting quick first-steps. However fans rarely see Jayson Tatum backing up defenders with his large frame. Size is not the problem here - it's a matter of approach and confidence.
Watching early Antoine Walker film, you see a long, heavier set guy who throws his calloused body around more violently than the big man that he’s facing. Jayson Tatum already has a mid-range jumper that would complement this play style perfectly. And he has the physique.
Tatum just needs to learn to leverage that size - to put even more fear into the hearts of defenders.
If he could master his post-up game, Jayson Tatum would be fringe-unstoppable. He would be the closest thing to an Antoine Walker/Paul Pierce hybrid since - well, Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce.
Photo: (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)