Boston Celtics: It’s time for Jayson Tatum to take the next step forward

Jayson Tatum #0 of Team Durant (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum #0 of Team Durant (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

The Boston Celtics have just 22 games left in the 2021-22 regular season. With the All-Star festivities now in the rearview mirror, it’s time to see whether the Celtics recent hot streak was for real, or just a fluke thanks in part to an easy schedule.

Compared to where they were just a month ago, Boston is in a pretty solid position. They are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, and considering they are just 4.5 games out of first place, every team ahead of them in the standings is within reach. It’s not a stretch to suggest the Celtics could contend for the top seed in the East, although with other teams starting to get healthy, it is a bit unlikely.

Still, things are looking up for the C’s, and there’s a chance that something could be made of this seemingly desolate season. And when things are going right for this team, that usually means that Jayson Tatum is playing good basketball. And during the Celtics hot streak that saw them go 16-5 over their final 21 games before the All-Star break, that was certainly the case.

Tatum shook off a slow start to the season to be Boston’s only All-Star, although you can make a case that Jaylen Brown was robbed of his second straight appearance. Tatum has established himself as an All-Star caliber player, but that’s not going to be enough for the Celtics and their fans. With Tatum a yearly All-Star candidate at this point, it’s time for him to take the next step towards superstar status, and it starts with leading the Celtics on a run as the playoffs near.

The Boston Celtics need Jayson Tatum to continue his development into a superstar

Coming into the season, it seemed like pretty much everyone around the NBA assumed that both Tatum and Brown had reached superstar status for the C’s. It was clear after Boston’s miserable start to the season that just wasn’t the case. Both players struggled to find their rhythm scoring the basketball, and their isolation-heavy basketball made for some sluggish offensive nights.

But as the Boston Celtics have gotten hot, so has Tatum. He has changed his style of play to align with Boston’s system, and it’s finally begun to click. His scoring efficiency is starting to level out, his rebounding has never been better, and his abilities as a playmaker have really taken a step forward as of late.

Despite that, Tatum still isn’t at the superstar level many assume he has already achieved. He goes through cold stretches too frequently still, and his ability to take control of games in the fourth quarter has yet to come to life regularly. His performance in the team’s loss to the Detroit Pistons wasn’t horrible by any means, but he is going to be remembered as the guy who missed the potential game-winning shot.

For the most part, Tatum has made fantastic progress this season. His three-point shooting is rebounding after an ugly start, but even then, he’s finding his way to the paint more and more frequently. This has led Tatum to the free throw line more and more, as he’s averaging a career high six free throws per game on a season where foul calls are down around the league. When Tatum gets to the line consistently, he cannot be stopped.

Tatum has also turned himself into a key cog of the Boston Celtics ball movement renaissance. While much of the praise will probably go towards Marcus Smart, Tatum has been just as important in this aspect. Too many times the offense was getting clogged thanks to his isolation plays. Tatum is a skilled isolation scorer, but it becomes too predictable at times, and he’s done a good job of breaking old habits lately.

I touched on the topic of Tatum’s superstardom earlier this season when Boston was struggling, and the main point of contention that existed then still exists now. Tatum has all the talent in the world, but when the game is on the line, he still struggles to assert himself. Now granted, the Celtics haven’t exactly played a ton of close games lately, but the loss to the Pistons proves that he still has yet to hit that benchmark.

Elite teams have elite players that can win games for their team anytime they want to. Looking at recent champions, you will see Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, and Kawhi Leonard (formerly) of the Toronto Raptors. These guys are bonafide superstars. To put Tatum in the same category as them right now would be wrong. But that doesn’t mean that will always be the case.

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Tatum is still just 23 years old (soon to be 24), meaning he still has room to grow. Despite missing Kemba Walker for most of the previous season, this is really the first time he has been tasked with taking charge of a team alongside Brown. There are going to be some learning curves, and this team has certainly endured some of them already.

But now it’s time to take the next step forward. Tatum has developed a lot this season, but in order for him to truly assert himself as a superstar in this league, he’s going to have to prove he can win games on his own for the Boston Celtics. The team’s recent run has set himself with the opportunity to do so; now it’s time to see whether he’s up for the challenge or not.