Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for Anthony Davis isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Why, you ask? Because Boston simply has not seen Tatum’s ceiling, nor Brown’s ceiling quite yet. Though a compelling one, the trade would be inherently unfair. One party has a coherent scouting report on the player that they’re receiving; the other has nothing but phantasmal projections. And what good are those?
As a disclaimer, for young basketball players entering the NBA Draft, we often hear the phrase “high ceiling” used to qualify them as a prospect. It's a colloquialism that gets tossed around rather frequently, when describing the budding foundation of the 2017-18 Boston Celtics.
But just how long should fans expect it to take for the Celtics’ young talent to flower into the superstars, or the busts that they are to become - to reach their respective ceilings?
That word “ceiling” - it’s magical. Owners, coaches and fans alike marvel at it. And it’s foolish to mathematically appraise a player before they’ve reached this incalculable point in their career. But, when it comes to the evaluation of potential, when is “soon” too soon?
After all, Michael Jordan didn’t enter the NBA as the transcendent superstar that he would become; but he certainly was some un-evolved form of Michael Jordan. When you look at the graphs and the numbers, it appears that there is an established developmental window, for the growth of an NBA player.
The Magic Number
Every franchise’s situation is singular. Oftentimes, Rookie of the Year Awards are dictated by the fit or the apportionment of a player with their given team. Some organizations perpetually draft, in search of the next messiah, only to come up with air-balls. Until recently, Philadelphia has been a bleak burial ground for these types of picks.
But then there’s this other thing: The healthy, natural cultivation of talent. Growing pains and learning curves. The 2017-18 Boston Celtics is a perfect example of this. They have a super competent coach, in Brad Stevens, and a gaggle of scouting wizards, in Danny Ainge and his subordinates. These two facets collaborate to sow and harvest prospects, year after year.
With turbulent trade rumors circulating, whirling around the big name that is Anthony Davis, Boston fans are forced to address their love for the assets that the Celtics presently have. We’re talking about consistent contributors, such as Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Have these kids reached their ceiling, and if so, what does that look like?
The answer is a resounding no.
Abstracted from the history of the top-five scorers in the NBA, the developmental window appears to be three years in length. Before this amount of time has elapsed in players career, every statistic is pretty much loaded immaterial. Yes, it gives you a glimpse of what a given player will become - but the fourth-year is the magic year for the accurate measurement of their ceiling.
The top-five scorers: James Harden, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Most of these guys are going to be first-ballot hall of famers - some already, if they retired today. But they didn't get here overnight.
From their rookie season to their fourth-year, these perennial All-Stars made an inordinate leap in production. Collectively their points per game increased by an average of 11.58 PTS, during this window of time. Antetokounmpo appropriately made the greatest leap; his fourth year PPG was 16.1 higher than that of his rookie season.
LeBron, Davis, Harden and Cousins were all producing at a clip that was within 3 PPG of their career averages, by their fourth-year. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the outlier, scoring 6.6 more PPG than his career average of 16.3 PPG, during his fourth-year. Bear in mind, he is also the youngest player in this group.
This trend illustrates the underlying fact that the Celtics do not yet know the exact value of their handful of young talent. Jaylen Brown is only in his second year - Jayson Tatum his first. These two kids are holographic first editions that will surely increase in value over time.
For guys like Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart, their clock is expiring. Where Smart is in his fourth-year, he has most likely evolved into the player he is destined to become; what you see is what you get. And Rozier is in a very similar boat. Still they both fit into the Celtics system nicely and they should get paid accordingly.
Remember, when Jayson Tatum jab-steps a defender off of him, pulls up and splashes a three in his face - this is a prelude. These flashes of ability should not galvanise Boston into shopping their prospects. It should stimulate hope for the fruition of a new homegrown dynasty. The enamorment that courses through the minds of Celtics fans is predicated on only an introduction to the very near future - a future that is worlds brighter than the already brilliant present.
So give it a few years, Boston. Even GOATs and unicorns take some time to develop.
Photo: (John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe)