And whereas no group ever needs to present away a possible lengthy playoff run, particularly with the East wanting as open as its been to a non-LeBron James group previously eight years, possibly that’s not the worst factor for the Celtics.
This has been a snakebitten yr since Hayward suffered his nasty ankle damage on opening evening, however the future is brilliant in Boston. Perhaps, from right here, it’s greatest if the Celtics let Irving get his surgical procedure, inform Hayward he’s not coming again and let that future shine.
Particularly rookie Jayson Tatum. As this season has progressed, Tatum has validated the status he had when he left Duke final spring — that he was NBA-ready, a clean shooter within the mould of Allan Houston, however with a bit extra athleticism.
He has confirmed to be an excellent Three-point shooter (42.9 p.c), but additionally a wonderful midrange shooter (43.5 p.c from 16 toes out, in keeping with basketball-reference.com). Tatum takes simply 10.1 pictures per recreation, however nonetheless averages 13.6 factors. When Tatum takes 12 pictures or extra, the Celtics have gone 17-Four.
He doesn’t get the shot makes an attempt commensurate together with his expertise, after all, as a result of Boston is an efficient group, led by Irving, and there are pictures wanted for second-year man Jaylen Brown and Al Horford. Tatum has come into the NBA and, quite than being handed a star-level slice of the offense, has needed to work inside a system. He sees the profit in that.
“I really feel like I’m very lucky,” Tatum advised Sporting Information, “being in a successful surroundings, with nice veterans, an amazing teaching workers, and that has actually helped my recreation, particularly the psychological side — being round guys who actually know the sport of basketball. It’s one of the best ways to study.”
Maybe, however the Celtics should be not less than a little bit inquisitive about what Tatum may do as a featured participant, as the highest choice. He’s solely 20, and the way in which the Celtics have dealt with him has been starkly completely different than the method the group took for Brown’s rookie season. Brown has the potential to be a star in his personal proper, a suffocating defensive participant with great athleticism and a surprisingly dependable perimeter shot, at 37.Three p.c this season. (He had been a 29.Four p.c Three-point shooter in school.)
However Brown was introduced alongside slowly through the season, and even when the Celtics received into some determined conditions in final yr’s playoffs, coach Brad Stevens by no means actually unleashed Brown final spring. Tatum, alternatively, has been a starter from the season opener, and he has not missed a recreation.
Tatum has the power to be a lead scorer. He’s the Celtics’ greatest participant in transition (1.22 factors per possession, tops on the group), and whereas the majority of his offense, as with the Celtics usually, comes on spot-up pictures created off ball motion, Tatum has proven some promise as a post-up participant and a ball-handler within the pick-and-roll — his 1.04 factors per possession within the PNR, in keeping with NBA.com stats, ranks within the 92nd percentile.
Tatum does concede that he needed to struggle by way of a rookie wall, particularly after the Celtics performed in London, got here again and misplaced 5 out of six video games, with Tatum averaging 9.Three factors on simply 35.6 p.c capturing. These had been video games 45-50 for Tatum, and fatigue took maintain.
“I solely performed 29 video games in school, I used to be harm the primary eight,” Tatum stated. “We’ve already performed (71) video games, so, it’s powerful. I used to be 19 for many of the yr. It’s an enormous adjustment, taking part in each different day, 4 video games every week, touring. I didn’t have my rhythm.
“There are ups and downs within the season, and also you simply need to keep it up and determine it out. My coaches and teammates advised me that might come they usually supported me. I didn’t actually do something to interrupt out of it, I simply type of saved going and adjusted.”
Tatum had 23 factors in Wednesday’s scrappy win over the Thunder, the Celtics taking part in with out Irving or Brown within the beginning lineup. He was Eight-for-12 capturing, going principally in opposition to Paul George, one of many league’s greatest defenders.
That’s the type of efficiency that raises the expectations for Tatum as a possible No. 1 choice. It’s been encouraging to look at his improvement in video games wherein Irving doesn’t play. The primary 3 times Irving sat out this yr — within the first three months of the season — Tatum shot 33.Three p.c from the sector, 2-for-11 from the Three-point line and averaged 9.Three factors. Over the past eight video games he performed with out Irving, Tatum has averaged 18.Three factors on 49.6 p.c capturing (37.5 p.c from the Three-point line).
As Stevens stated the opposite evening, “We’re going to simply hold throwing him to the wolves and hold going to him in these moments.”
Within the long-term, Stevens should work out how he makes use of Tatum’s scoring potential alongside Irving and a wholesome Hayward, with Brown and Al Horford nonetheless on board. However within the short-term, with Irving’s knee needing safety and Hayward targeted on a return subsequent yr, it will not be the worst factor to have Tatum proceed his rookie improvement because the group’s prime scoring risk by way of these stretch-run video games — and possibly even by way of the playoffs.