Why the Slow Start for Celtics' Sophomore Tatum?

Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics aren’t exactly out to the amazing start that many hoped for. While 7-5 is by no means terrible, it’s a far cry from last year’s 16-2 start even having missed multiple players due to injury. And now, with everyone back, the expectations for a Finals push has come with them.

With all due respect to Brad Stevens’ (well-deserved) reputation as a great coach, I think we ought to pump the brakes a bit, as he has to at least win a title before getting crowned as the best coach in the league over other names like Pop and Kerr. After all, as good as his teams have ranked on defense, last year’s Celtics ranked 18th in offense and are 24th so far this year. Yet obviously, last year’s team was having much more overall success to this point.

So what’s changed since then?

I think the biggest factor has been the contrast in Jayson Tatum’s play. Tatum, who was well-known as a huge contributor for the 55 win Celtics that made the ECF, averaged 14 and 5 on 48/43/83. But this year, he seems to be going through a sophomore slump.

With Irving and Hayward both returning to the lineup, much was made about how the shots would be distributed between the three aforementioned names as well as Jaylen Brown and Al Horford. But Tatum is actually averaging more shots than he did last year. Thing is, he just isn’t producing nearly as well.

Through 13 games last year, he averaged 13.7 ppg shooting 50% from both FG and 3.

Through 13 games this year, he is averaging 16.1 ppg shooting 41% from FG and 38% from 3.

Why is there such a big difference in efficiency? Much of it can be attributed to shot selection.

Tatum surprised the league last year with how well and how often he shot the 3. After being known as a midrange threat in college, many of his critics were wary of how he’d fit in the modern game. Clearly he squashed that worry as he found himself with the highest 3P% in the league at 50% through much of the year.

But now, he’s back to taking many more midrange shots per game. Not only is he taking nearly 6% more of his shots from midrange compared to last year, he’s also making 14% less from that range. At this point, long 2’s are known to be the most inefficient shot in the game, and his shooting numbers only reflect that.

If that wasn’t enough, he’s also taking 12% less shots at the rim this year compared to last, and is making 7% less on those shots.

Here’s last year’s shot chart:

And here’s this year’s so far:

And here’s this year’s so far:

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Tatum’s workouts with Kobe this offseason were well-publicized, and the Celtics-Lakers rivalry runs deep. Was Kobe sabotaging the young Boston star? Either way, Jayson Tatum has some work to do to get himself and his team back on track.

stats and shot charts per BBallRef

NBAJon ZuckComment