Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum looked ready to ascend to All-Stardom during the 2017/18 NBA playoffs. Dunking on LeBron James, racking up points and leading the Celtics’ offence in a deep postseason run, Tatum was drawing comparisons with Kobe Bryant. He was Boston’s future.
Tatum, along with fellow youngster Jaylen Brown, still is Boston’s future. The projection for the remainder of his NBA career – and there’s a lot of it left – is less clear. A difficult second season saw a drop off in Tatum’s shooting from all over the floor, his shot selection often questionable in an offence that was all too often dysfunctional.
With Kyrie Irving’s ‘leadership’, and a team struggling to gel, Tatum’s 2018/19 regular season is arguably excusable.
Walker is a star, but he’s not quite Irving. Horford’s absence cannot be overstated. It’s Tatum’s team now, Stevens needs the former third overall pick to become what he threatened to be in the 2018 playoffs.
That means fewer long twos. It means consistently excellent defence – which Tatum is more than capable of. It means taking games over, particularly when Walker isn’t on the floor. Tatum has all of that in his locker, but this season could prove definitive in his young career.
Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers are two strongest teams in the Eastern Conference, and it’s not that close at the moment. The Celtics, Pacers, Nets, and maybe the Heat, are the next group. Those teams will likely be battling for third, but if Tatum can elevate his game from promising youngster to All-Star, Boston have a chance to make it into a big three in the East.
Once again, the Celtics are intriguing. They were as they pushed the Cavaliers in the playoffs two years ago, and the returns of Irving and Gordon Hayward meant they were last season too. Big names are gone in Irving and Horford, veteran big man Aron Baynes is playing for the Suns, leaving centre stage open for Tatum.