Jayson Tatum is a smooth operator

Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics looks for a shot against the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics looks for a shot against the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Jayson Tatum has taken a gazelle-like leap this year. His transition from excellent to elite looks to be going as effortlessly as the way in which he plays the game.

It’s Saturday night and the lights are turned down low. The kids are in bed and there’s a fire roaring in the fireplace.  The house is quiet except for the luscious sounds of Sade setting the mood just right as I sat down on the couch eager with anticipation.

No need to ask, he’s a smooth operator…

I slowly hit the pause button to start watching the Celtics and Rockets game.  The only desire I want to satisfy tonight is my love of basketball by watching one of the league’s rising stars in Jayson Tatum.

Coast to coast, LA to Chicago…

No, I’m pretty sure it was in Boston this evening. After a slow start, Tatum began to pick it up as the game went along and despite the tough loss on a tough shooting night, he eclipsed 30 points for the seventh time in February after reaching the mark only six times in his career before the start of the month and only once his first two seasons. But, you’re right Sade, Jayson Tatum did have great outings under the brightest of lights against the Clippers and Lakers too.

He is kind of making a career as a performer on the biggest of stages. It’s hard to forget the show he put on in the 2018 playoffs, leading the Celtics to within a game of the Finals.  In the process, he became the second-leading rookie scorer in NBA Playoff history, only one point behind Kareem Abdul Jabar. That’s not bad company to keep.

He also joined Kareem as the only other first-year player to record ten or more 20-point games and set a number of NBA and Celtic records during his run. He put his name among or above players like Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Julius Erving and other all-timers to reach his scoring milestones, but the most indelible image from his magical postseason was his vicious posterization of Lebron James.

Remember this was also in Game 7 of the Conference Finals, halfway through the fourth quarter and sparked the Celtics to take a lead even though they would fail to hold it. Still, Tatum scored 24 with 7 boards on 9-of-17 shooting. Not bad for a rookie with the Finals on the line against LeBron James who was heard to praise Tatum in the locker room after another Conference Championship.

Placing high stakes, making hearts ache…

Yeah, Sade, he almost did, but this does not seem out of character from what we have seen from Tatum thus far in his career.  He came into the league with a reputation as a polished scorer out of Duke, but more than that, he seems to have brought an unusual amount of poise and professionalism as well.

It appears that nothing really fazes him whether it be the last seconds of a big game or the last option of big business. Before the Lakers ultimately landed Anthony Davis in a trade, the Celtics were thought to be pursuing him during last season. The probable bait was Jayson Tatum. We have seen players express frustration on and off the court when being brought into trade rumors, but Tatum had a different reaction when speaking with The New York Times.

“Trade rumors don’t bother me. They’re talking about trading me for guys like Anthony Davis. I mean, I must be doing something pretty well…Being traded is part of the game. I’ll play for whomever.”

He realizes that basketball is a business, Isaiah Thomas anyone, but seems to have the humility to joke about it. When asked about his dad saying he would trade him for Davis if he wasn’t his son, Tatum replied, “Yeah, I’d trade me for Anthony Davis too.” He doesn’t seem particularly worried about where he plays although, at this point, Boston might see another historic revolt were it to bring up Jayson Tatum’s name in trade talks again.

A lot of this talk was during Boston’s tumultuous last season that never saw them clear the bar preseason expectations had set for them. Tatum too failed to reach the lofty sophomore ceiling that many had predicted and while noise of locker room discord swirled, Tatum remained tight-lipped while others did not.

It was a diplomatic approach a second-year guy that was asked to sacrifice after a breakout performance on the biggest stage as a rookie. He also saw only slight improvement in his numbers while being involved in trade talks from an organization that supposedly wanted him first but gamed the Sixers and drafted Tatum third without having to pay him first-pick money.  Although Tatum doesn’t seem like it bothered him, even joking that Danny Ainge should pay him as such, being the number one draft pick is a big deal no matter what anyone says, just from an ego standpoint alone.  He also had to be a little unsettled at the Celtics having been in the Davis’ rumors and witnessing the Thomas exit first hand.

We shadow box and double cross…

This season started with a lot of uncertainties. One All-Star out in Kyrie Irving, but another All-Star back, in high-scoring, ball-dominant guard, Kemba Walker. Gordon Hayward was another season removed from injury and ready to live up to his high price tag, while Jaylen Brown entered wanting to have his own breakout after seeing his role reduced the year before as well. With a lot of questions swirling around the Celtic’s roster, what would Tatum’s role be?

He answered it right off the bat with 21 and 10 on 22 shots in a loss to Philadelphia.  The Celtics won the next 10 in a row and over the first five, Tatum was going off for 22 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.6 steals on 20 shots a game. In Boston’s last five games against the Bucks in the 2019 playoffs, Tatum only attempted 10 shots a game. He came out aggressive and he looked ready to play the part this season, noticeably bigger and more muscular with an increased focus on the more physical aspects of the game: driving the lane, getting to the line and playing solid defense.

A lot has been made of Tatum’s work with Kobe after his first year and the inefficiencies that popped up in his game during his second season. While true, you’d like to think the work ethic, commitment to improving and effort on defense and being a two-way player also rubbed off on Tatum. He has improved his handle and defense significantly.

He move in space with minimum waste and maximum joy…

Thanks again Sade, I was just getting into that. Tatum has also changed the way he accumulates his buckets.  Compared to last season, per game, Jayson Tatum has made 1.3 more 3s on 3.2 more attempts and 1.4 more free throws on 1.8 more attempts. This is even more evident when we look at his current 55 games played in relation to last year. Jayson Tatum has 38 more 3-point makes on 78 more attempts, 18 more free throw makes on 33 more attempts and overall has only four fewer field goals on 10 fewer shots than he had in the 79 regular-season games he played in 2018-19.

Step back 3s after some fancy dribbling and a few jabs steps? Check. Silky mid-range game and fade away jumpers? Check. Hard drives to the basket with the ability to go up and under or finish through contact? Check. Aggression and quiet ferocity that can explode in a moment and mash a dunk into the help side defender’s craw? Check.

Now we can add increased focus on defense, better shot selection, accentuated savviness and a willingness to take the tough shots and live with the results. Jayson Tatum continues to work on his game and the results speak for themselves. One thing it seems Tatum always possessed though, was his ability to focus at the task at hand.

His coach, Brad Stevens, expounded on this point, “Circumstances don’t affect him. First game of the season, he’s unaffected by the jitters that everybody has. The seventh game of a playoff series? Unaffected. At least he shows himself to be unaffected, and he can thrive in that environment.”

No place for beginners or sensitive hearts. When sentiment is left to chance…

Wow, this lady really knows her stuff. Sade Adu may have crooned out her scrumptious ballad about a cool-handed professional player in 1984 but her words still ring true.  I don’t know how you can watch Jayson Tatum play basketball and not be immediately reminded of her song that came out almost 15 years before he was born.

Music is timeless, style is timeless and so is Tatum’s game. Shave off the beard and ‘stache and you’ve got the most glorious set of muttonchops to grace the hardwoods since the seventies.

He plays with a powerful grace that could be starring on the court in any era and already carries himself like a 10-year vet. He buries another contested 3 and I raise a glass of wine, twinkling in the firelight and sit back in satisfaction as Sade serenades me again.

He’s smooth operator, a smooth operator…

Damn straight Sade, Jayson Tatum most certainly is.

Next. This is the Norman Powell the Raptors have been waiting for. dark