Jayson Tatum’s breakout season is finally here! It feels somewhat awkward to be using the word “finally” in the context of talking about a third year-player, but for Tatum it seems somewhat justified. A disappointing year two for the Celtics young forward took the shine off of Tatum a bit and led many to question the legitimacy of Tatum’s “future star” status. It felt like Tatum was destined to breakout in his second NBA season, but fans had to sit through a sophomore slump before seeing Tatum blossom into the player he’s become in year three.
Despite the Celtics losing to the Clippers last week, there was a silver lining in that game. Tatum outplayed both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard and his game-tying stepback three that dropped Paul George was a sight to see. Hitting a shot like that over one of the best defenders in the league, that’s something superstars do. This season, Tatum is making his case to be considered as such.
Jayson Tatum is clearly having what would be considered a special season for any NBA player, nevermind a 21-year old. The question is, has Tatum risen to All-Star status?
In the Eastern Conference, it shouldn’t be too difficult for Tatum to earn a spot on the team. This is especially true with former All-Stars like John Wall, Victor Oladipo and Kevin Durant sidelined for varying significant portions of the season. Tatum’s competition for an All-Star spot isn’t going to be too stiff. Last season, Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton was (for all intents and purposes) the worst All-Star in the Eastern Conference, which isn’t as insulting as it sounds. Middleton made the team averaging fewer points, fewer rebounds, fewer steals, fewer blocks and more turnovers than Tatum currently is this season. Tatum still has Middleton beat in all of those same statistical categories when comparing his numbers to Middleton’s numbers this year despite the fact that Middleton was expected to take a statistical step forward with Malcolm Brogdon leaving town this last offseason. If Middleton is the man to beat this year for Tatum to make the team, Tatum has the clear early edge.
To earn a spot, Tatum will have to be considered one of the 12 best players in the East and the numbers certainly make a strong case for him to be just that. Tatum currently ranks 9th in the East in scoring, 10th in East in defensive win shares and t-4th in the East in plus/minus. Those ranks paint Tatum as an elite two-way force with a significant impact on winning, certainly a player worthy of making the All-Star team.
Tatum is currently averaging 20.5 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and 1.3 steals per game. There are 10 players averaging 20 or more points, 6 or more rebounds and 1 or more steals per game this season:
(stats via basketball-reference.com)
Quite the list. Of those players, 8 of the 10 are multiple time All-Stars who made the team last year. The other two are Tatum and 2nd-year player/MVP candidate Luka Doncic, who you could argue should’ve made the team last year as a rookie over LaMarcus Aldridge.
Looking at the numbers, it’s getting difficult to imagine how Tatum can be kept off the All-Star team this year. And don’t worry about Tatum’s numbers dropping off once Gordon Hayward returns and the Celtics are at full strength. In the five games where Brown, Walker, Tatum and Hayward have all played, Tatum is averaging 20.6 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game and 2.4 steals per game which are all better than his current season averages. Tatum has performed better when surrounded by superior talent, not worse.
One month in, it seems like Tatum’s best statistical season to date should earn him a spot in this year’s All-Star game. Ultimately, it will be on the coaches and eligible media to award him that prestigious honor. As long as the Celtics continue their winning ways, you can feel safe ordering your custom-made Jayson Tatum All-Star jersey early this year.
The “Put Jayson Tatum in the All-Star game” campaign starts now.
Photo: (Winslow Townson - AP Photo)