With Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart both injured, it’s time for rookie sensation Jayson Tatum to put the Boston Celtics in a favorable spot for a deep playoff run.
A couple of months ago, I presented an argument for Jayson Tatum winning rookie of the year. While it seems like Donovan Mitchell has become the clear frontrunner for the award in recent weeks, Tatum has still been able to produce at a level that is beyond his years. The Boston Celtics have not drafted a 20-year-old with this much raw talent and athleticism in a while.
A few days ago, ESPN reported that star point guard Kyrie Irving would have to miss three to six weeks for the removal of a tension wire in his left knee. Supposedly, the same part of Irving’s knee has been bothering him for a few years now, and this surgery is allegedly going to heal it. Hopefully, this doesn’t turn into a Derrick Rose situation, where the same injury will bother Kyrie for the rest of his career. Thankfully, this doesn’t seem as serious as that.
The other major injury plaguing Boston right now is defensive stalwart Marcus Smart’s thumb injury. About a week ago, the backup guard had successful surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb. According to nba.com, he’s expected to be back in six to eight weeks.
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A rough road ahead
The Celtics will legitimately not have either of their backbones for the start of the playoffs, which means Tatum will have a more critical role in Brad Stevens’ rotation.
The Toronto Raptors have all but taken hold of the one-seed in the Eastern Conference. As of right now, they sit four and a half games up on Boston. If the C’s do end up locking up the two-seed, then they would have to possibly go through both Toronto and Cleveland, rather than just one of them. They’ve struggled with both of these teams this year.
The good news is Stevens has been able to experiment with different lineups, and start guys that probably would never have a chance on other playoff teams. It has now become Tatum and Al Horford’s squad.
Say what you want about Mitchell, but Tatum has proved that he can carry the Celtics offensively for an entire game. After a rough middle part of the season, Tatum’s numbers have sparked tremendously in the month of March. After averaging 11.5 points per game in February, the rookie is now averaging 15.9 points per game according to nba.com. Not only that, but his field goal percentage has improved from 42.1% in the previous month, to 48.1% now.
A maturing rookie
Tatum has just been a lot more aggressive than he was earlier in the season. A lot of people knocked him for his passiveness on the offensive side of the floor. He’s too athletic to not take advantage of his ridiculous size and strength. I personally still think that he is one of the most NBA-ready rookies in the league right now.
As Chowder and Champions writer Talar Kahwajian said in her article about Tatum’s skill set, the experience that he is getting now is integral to his development. With big wins against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder, as well as a fantastic performance in a double-overtime loss to the Wizards, Tatum continues to show signs of greatness.
He’s the got the coach and the infrastructure to help him have a long and successful career. Hopefully, he can help the Celtics survive a stretch without two key players.