Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum and the challenge of NBA superstardom

Boston Celtics Jayson Tatum. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Boston Celtics Jayson Tatum. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

When Jayson Tatum plays like an NBA All-Star, the Boston Celtics win games. It is as simple as that. But can he carry the team when he is struggling?

That’s the question challenging the next phrase of Tatum’s rise to superstardom. Can he make players around him better? Can he find other ways to impact a game without scoring? Those are questions Tatum will be faced with as he continues to grow as a superstar and as a leader…a quiet leader.

With the Celtics barely above .500 after the first 19 games of the young 2021-22 NBA season, Tatum and Jaylen Brown have both come under criticism for their ability to both lead this team and make players around them better. More so Tatum, who has shown the ability to dominate any game when his shot is falling and when his mind is set to winning. But does he care about the winning part?

Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum facing the criticism that comes with superstardom

As with any young rising star in today’s NBA, that is a question that Tatum is just going to have to come accustomed to being criticized about, especially when this version of the Boston Celtics struggle or underachieve. Will he be more on the level of a LeBron James or Kevin Durant or is he Carmelo Anthony or Paul George?

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While Celtics fans hope he develops that killer instinct and drive to win, one unnamed NBA coach has put Tatum, at this point in his career, in that category of caring more about individual stats.

"“Jayson Tatum is about Jayson Tatum,” An Eastern Conference coach said, via ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. “I don’t think he cares about winning now, and if he does, it is on his terms. He doesn’t want to score 15 and win. He wants to score 39 and win.”"

Ouch! But a recent string of 30-plus point performances kind of prove what that unnamed coach has to say about Jayson Tatum. The team won most of those games, but when the struggle can they still win games? Is he happy when they win those games?

Jayson Tatum must do other things to help the Boston Celtics win

While his body language during stretches of games when his shot is not falling seems to be further proof of him putting his own individual statistics over the team, it could also be proof that he feels the pressure of his team underachieving at times.

But, like a LeBron or even like the player he models his game after, the late Kobe Bryant, Tatum must find other ways to impact a game and make the players around him better. As a talented defender, he must shine more on the defensive end when his offense isn’t there. Offensively, he must be just as enthused dishing out 10 assists as he would be scoring 40 points in a win or even a loss.

In averaging 25.2 points and 8.4 rebounds this season, Tatum is close to averaging a double-double, but how good would this Boston Celtics team be if he could come close to averaging a triple-double?

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With just 3.5 assists a game, there is some room for improvement in Tatum’s playmaking ability. Part of that is having the players around him that he trusts to make shots, but mostly, he must have the mindset to want to get others involved. That is the winning mentality of an NBA superstar. He must grow with his game and now try to grow past it.

In other words, for the Boston Celtics to get to where they want to be, Tatum must be the man in more ways than one. Just ask players like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. They sacrificed to win. That is the next phrase of superstardom for Jayson Tatum.