Jayson Tatum powering Celtics amidst injuries

Jayson Tatum

Since 2009-10, only eight players have averaged at least 13 points per game, registered a PER of 13 or better and connected on 90 threes or more in their rookie season.

Boston Celtics first-year forward Jayson Tatum is one of them.

Tatum’s offensive game flashes a spicy level of bravado for a rookie and the efficiency in which he gets it done with makes it even more impressive.

When adding a True Shooting qualifier of at least 55% to the aforementioned metrics, the list shrinks down to only three players: Stephen Curry, Marcus Thornton, and Tatum.

It’s usually a luxury to be a top-three team in either conference and have a rookie that can contribute in a big way, but the Celtics’ circumstances have necessitated increased output from Tatum.

We all know about Gordon Hayward’s devastating season-ending ankle injury (although I conspire he’s going to attempt a return during the postseason), but a host of other Boston players are on the mend as well.

Kyrie Irving is grappling with an ailing knee that needs a second opinion, Marcus Smart just underwent surgery on his thumb (although he’s eying a playoff comeback), Jaylen Brown is still in the concussion protocol after his nasty spill against the Timberwolves and Daniel Theis is done for the year with a torn meniscus.

A wave of injuries such as these could paralyze a team in the short-term, but it helps that the Celtics have savants like Brad Stevens and Al Horford to keep them steady, as well as guys like Tatum, who has averaged 18.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists on 50% shooting and 40% from three since Irving last took the floor in a 15-minute stint against the Indiana Pacers on Mar. 11.

This includes a 23-point, 11-rebound, 4-assist effort (the first 20-10 game of his career) in a thrilling 100-99 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, a performance that prompted Paul George to heap high amounts of praise upon Tatum after the game.

“It’s not even whether he makes shots, just his confidence out there. He looks like a star. He looks like a ballplayer. Again, he looks like a star. He doesn’t look like a rookie. He looks like a star in this league. He has that confidence. He has that game.”

Tatum was in his bag against the Thunder, flaunting the entire offensive repertoire against one of the better defensive teams in the league.

He burst his way to the basket for assaults on the rim.


“Alex Abrines is on me!? I don’t care if I’m a rookie. That’s disrespectful!”

Then Tatum saved his best for when the game got thick. Watch him abuse Corey Brewer with the snatch to separate space and drill the three.


Tatum has renewed his offensive confidence after crashing into the seemingly unavoidable rookie wall in parts of January and February, and it’s helped to keep the Celtics afloat amidst a tough time in terms of player health and availability.

With roughly three weeks remaining in the regular season, we’ll see if Tatum can continue to build on the foundation he’s begun to lay in the latter stages of the season.

With the uncertainty currently encompassing Irving’s knee, Boston will need Tatum to continue to do so not only as the 82-game campaign winds down but in the playoffs as well. 

Picture a scenario in which Irving is limited in postseason play or unable to go at all. One would assume this spells doom, disaster and would send the Celtics’ hopes of clinching a second-consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference Finals down the drain like some dirty shower water. 

While it certainly would be disappointing, there would still be some positivity to pluck from a playoff push led by Al Horford, Tatum, and Brown. 

  1. Maybe casuals would finally appreciate Horford for the two-way savant he is.
  2. Boston would expedite the maturation process of both Tatum and Brown, as they’d be entrusted with more responsibilities in the playoffs, gearing up for a potentially epic second year with this core.
  3. Celtics are still a two-top seed that has homecourt advantage and a legitimate chance to make it to the semifinals. 

Pepper some playoff experience on Tatum and Brown, let Danny Ainge do some more summer shuffling and let Hayward and to a lesser extent Irving, get fully healthy, and you’ve got a group that’s better equipped and probably the favorites in the East to make an NBA Finals run next season unless LeBron James decides to retreat to Philadelphia in free agency. 

Jayson Tatum
Staff Photo by Matt Stone (Boston Herald)

These are all just conjured up scenarios, but the one thing that’s not fictitious is how real Jayson Tatum’s game has looked in only his first NBA season. Paul George has certainly taken notice, and the rest of the league should have as well. If not, Tatum will be given his chance to put himself on their radar during the grander playoff stage. 


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