Don't believe the nonsense. Jayson Tatum is far from “overhyped”. A little over a week ago, a Bleacher Report article was published, claiming that the Celtics’ budding sophomore is one of the NBA’s top-5 most overhyped players, heading into the 2018-19 Season. For Green Teamers, this half-disparaging article appears to be the manifesto of radical contrarianism - bona fide crazy-talk. Still, it got me thinking: We all know that Jayson Tatum has an immensely bright future, but what would constitute a sophomore slump for a player with such an impressive rookie season behind him and such a imposingly high ceiling ahead of him?
To be fair, the claim that Tatum is overhyped is somewhat based in reality. It’s predicated on the supposition that Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward will return to the Celtics lineup, fully healthy, eating up minutes that were allocated to Tatum in their absence, last season. Some feel that this reduction in playing time will ultimately govern Tatum’s performance in his sophomore year.
Although this argument is understandable, it’s only coherent to some degree. To call Tatum “overhyped” is to misinterpret what the hype is all about.
The excitement that surrounds Jayson Tatum is not so much founded on the belief that he’ll immediately become an MVP candidate, but more on the belief that in the very near future, if asked to, he could more than adequately lead an NBA team, in every facet of the game.
You know - like he did in the 2018 NBA Playoffs.
A player being “misused”, or in Tatum’s case “underused”, does not render him less talented. For instance, if you have a diamond ring that you never take out of your jewelry box - does that make it any less of a diamond ring? No, it’s just not being used to its full potential; it’s not being shown off.
That will precisely be the case with Jayson Tatum, in his sophomore season. The Celtics and fans alike know Tatum’s value, but he Cs are not in a position where they need to fully leverage it.
With all of that being said, and presuming that he will see a slight reduction in minutes, what would constitute a sophomore slump for Jayson Tatum? What would be considered an underperformance in his 2nd NBA Season? What type of numbers would make it appear to the myopic judge that Tatum is “overhyped”?
There are coveted prospects who enter the NBA with raw ability, but who are not considered to be “NBA-ready”. Then there are prospects who enter the NBA equipped with a polished repertoire of skills, ready to be plugged into an NBA lineup, ready to carry some serious weight for a franchise.
The former is a guy like Jaylen Brown: Unrefined athleticism coming out of college, but not enough physicality to overmaster his lack of polish. The latter is a player like Jayson Tatum: All around professional game, a proficient scorer who doesn’t have to rely on flashiness to find ways to score and make an immediate impact.
For a guy like Tatum, one who’s ready to be inserted into a formidable NBA lineup, the bar is set so high during his rookie season, it’s almost detrimental to a fan’s perception of his early years. Whereas with someone like Jaylen Brown, a prospect who enters the league with a preponderance of things to work on, any amount of progress made during his sophomore season is seen as relieving, confirming his intrinsic basketball ability.
In this regard, a player like Jayson Tatum is almost damned for succeeding so immediately. Some would call this “overhyped”, where others would simply call this the plight of an NBA-ready rookie who happens to play for one of the best teams in the league.
Especially with the return of Gordon Hayward, Tatum will not need, nor have the opportunity to improve, that a player like Jaylen Brown receives during his sophomore and junior seasons, as his minutes appropriately increase.
An unrefined Jaylen Brown played just 17.2 minutes per game in his rookie year, averaging a conservative 5.4 field attempts per game. During his sophomore year, his MPG jumped from 17.2 to 30.7, and his FGA went from 5.4 to 11.5.
Because he received more of an opportunity to succeed, does this mean that Jaylen Brown was “underhyped” heading into his sophomore year? No! He just had more room to improve and more responsibilities, compared to his rookie year.
The inversion of this is what Jayson Tatum will face, during the 2018-19 season.
Tatum averaged 30.5 MPG in his rookie season, while scoring at a 13.9 PPG clip, knocking down .475% of his FGs. Again, I rhetorically mention that these are the numbers of a rookie, playing for a team that would eventually make it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Note that they are very similar to Jaylen Brown’s improved numbers, from his sophomore year.
It’s a mathematical inevitably that, if everyone stays healthy, Jayson Tatum will see a slight decrease in minutes, during his sophomore season. But given this kid’s work ethic and NBA readiness, there is no way that Tatum will suffer from a sophomore slump. Conversely he will not make a massive leap during his second year, like Jaylen Brown, but that’s merely because he doesn’t have to.
Weighing the experience Tatum gained last year and the offseason work that he’s put in, with the likes of first-ballot Hall of Famer in Kobe Bryant, against the extremely slight reduction in minutes - Tatum will most likely match or exceed his rookie numbers by a hair, in his sophomore season. This is not a slump, or the performance of an “overhyped” player, this is Jayson Tatum producing according to how he’s asked to produce.
The Celtics 2017-18 roster continuously and rapidly mutated over the course of the season - Jayson Tatum adapted, excelled at every juncture. Recently he has said that he’s willing to come off the bench. This kid’s ready for whatever you throw at him.
Talking statistics, look for Tatum to receive about 29.0 MPG, averaging 14.0-14.5 PPG, in his upcoming sophomore season. He’ll play a role similar to Marcus Morris last year - a shooter who can start, but also come off of the bench to provide a heartening injection of scoring, if the situation calls for it.
But mark my words: There will be no sophomore slump for Jayson Tatum. Being called “overhyped” is just the fuel to reinvigorate the fire that is Tatum's game and work ethic.
Photo: (Celtics Wire/USA Today Sports)(Jim Michaud/Boston Herald)