It’s a funny thing sometimes…you sit down to write an article and as you’re getting ready to tell people on Twitter to stay tuned for it, this happens.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) January 4, 2020
That’s Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics, the subject of this week’s Is He Any Good, doing something that indeed says yes, he’s any good. He’s pretty good. One might even say very good.
But that’s not really what we’re asking in the headline. Tatum is bandied about by Celtics fans as a would-be All-Star, a superstar in the making, a guy who will almost assuredly get a max extension once the time for talk of such things begins during the next offseason.
And that’s the metric we’re going to judge him by. Not “is he worth $17.6 million over the rest of his rookie deal”. Instead, “is he worth what his teammate Jaylen Brown is about to be making when his max extension kicks in?”
And with that…well, you know how things work around here.
The Counting Stats
Tatum’s load in the Celtics’ offense has increased this season, and he’s got the 21.3 points per game and 22.4 per 36 minutes to prove it.
He, along with Kemba Walker and Brown, form a scoring threat so fearsome that all three players are averaging better than 20 points a contest, and the Celtics are fourth in the league in Offensive Rating as more or less a direct result.
On the downside, his skyrocketing usage rate has been a drag on his efficiency; he’s shooting a career-low 45.9 percent on 2-point shots and a likewise career-low 36.6 percent on 3-pointers.
But in literally every counting stat—points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks—his nightly averages are the best they’ve been in his three years in the league.
The Advanced Stats
So he’s shooting inefficiently but scoring more. That should balance out when we get to the heavy metrics, right?
Well…not by a mile. Besides the obvious gain in PER that only proves how PER is nothing more than a counting-stat aggregator rather than an efficiency metric, Tatum’s WS/48 (.122), BPM (1.2), and VORP/82 (2.4) are all up from a disappointing sophomore season, and that VORP is the best of his career.
Sure, he’s no Luka Doncic (3.6 VORP as a rookie, already on 3.8 VORP in just 30 games this season in Dallas), but who is?
The better comp is Brown, the guy whose contract Tatum’s will most likely mimic as both were third-overall picks in consecutive years and as such both will be operating on the same max salary structure two years from now when both men’s extensions are underway.
Brown is on .181 WS/48, the cusp of superstardom (at .200, a team full of such players would be statistically expected to go 82-0.)
But Brown’s nowhere near the equal of Tatum defensively; Tatum is a good way off the Defensive Player of the Year conversation, but he is the linchpin of the third-ranked defense in the league.
And as to VORP, Brown’s on 3.3 per 82 games.
So basically, Brown is one year older and one year better than Tatum, and Tatum’s a lot better than the zero-VORP player Brown was a year ago.
If we credit coach Brad Stevens for his ability to develop young talent, give Tatum the benefit of another year, and then throw in a slice of the benefit-of-the-doubt pie for Tatum learning a role as primarily a power rather than a small forward in the Celtics’ offense this year, all while his defense continues to be excellent…
Well, you see where this is going.
I’m going to give Tatum the same grade I gave Brown, the grade of “he’s not quite there yet, but he’s young, he’s got tremendous potential, and he’s on a team in a city that tends to get greatness out of great talents.”
In other words, this one’s Plausible, and I wouldn’t bet against Tatum realizing his true potential unless you gave me plus odds on the money line.
NEXT WEEK: It’s his third year in the league, and that means Lonzo Ball is IHAG-eligible. It’s time, folks.