The Boston Celtics controlled the action for much of their latest contest against the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, but when the final buzzer sounded, they picked up yet another loss, this time in crushing fashion, by a score of 119-118. And a quick look at the final stat sheet showed that Jayson Tatum turned in another uninspiring effort for the C’s, which is becoming far more common than it should be.
In a game where Boston was without Marcus Smart, Al Horford, and Robert Williams III, Tatum turned in a disappointing outing (15 PTS, 6 AST, 3 REB, 4/12 FGM) that contributed to the loss for the C’s. They now have fallen down to the third seed in the Eastern Conference behind the Philadelphia 76ers, and they are at risk of continuing to slide before the playoffs get underway.
The Celtics haven’t been themselves for quite some time now, but they have been able to rely on their tandem of Tatum and Jaylen Brown to bail them out for much of the season. But now Tatum is struggling, and the Celtics are a mess on both sides of the ball. And if he can’t snap out of his recent funk, Boston is going to be in quite a bit of trouble.
Jayson Tatum needs to find his form for the Celtics
For much of the season, Tatum has been playing at an MVP-caliber level. His per game numbers on the season as a whole are still phenomenal (30 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 4.7 APG, 45.7 FG%, 34.5 3P%) and this is easily going to go down as the best season of Tatum’s career. But after leading the MVP conversation earlier this season, Tatum isn’t even in the discussion at this point of the campaign.
Why is that you may ask? Ever since the All-Star break, Tatum has been crumbling on both sides of the floor. His per game numbers in the 12 games since the break highlight his struggles in pretty obvious fashion (26.9 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 5.6 APG, 42.3 FG%, 29.2 3P%). Tatum has made strides as a rebounder and passer as the season has progressed, but his efficiency from the field has taken a turn for the worse.
Everyone goes through cold stretches from the floor, but the more concerning piece isn’t that Tatum is struggling, but how he is struggling. Tatum typically takes about 20 shots per game, which is nothing new, but his shot diet is becoming increasingly concerning. And it’s something that somebody, whether it be Tatum himself or the coaching staff, needs to point out immediately.
The first problem here is that during this stretch, Tatum has almost completely eliminated mid-range jumpers from his shot diet. During this aforementioned 12 game stretch, Tatum has taken just 14 shots that are labeled as mid-range shots. Granted, he’s hit just four of those looks, but Tatum made a name for himself as one of the best mid-range shooters in the NBA early on in his career, only to completely abandon those looks recently.
This is becoming a big problem because Tatum is becoming an increasingly predictable player. Typically when Tatum has the ball, he’s shooting a three or trying to get to the paint, and as we see above, he’s not hitting nearly enough threes for opponents to truly be concerned about his shooting right now. You obviously can’t ignore Tatum entirely from behind the arc, but defenders are slouching off him more as of late, daring him to shoot threes and making his path to the rim much more difficult.
The other concerning piece about this is that Tatum seems to be accepting of the fact that this is how team’s are defending him. Despite the fact that he’s been an abysmal shooter since the All-Star break, Tatum is taking ten threes per game right now. So despite shooting more than he has at any point of the season, Tatum is hitting less of his threes. That makes Boston’s offense lazy, predictable, and ultimately, as inefficient as they have been all season long.
Tatum isn’t totally selling Boston out here, though, as he’s making an increased effort to find his open teammates when he has the ball. Considering how Jaylen Brown has been the far superior offensive player since the All-Star break (27.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 4 APG, 50.2 FG%, 38.7 3P%) that makes a lot of sense, but it’s also contributed to Tatum taking just 12 shots against a Jazz team that is barely a Play-In team at this point. Tatum should be torching this team.
The most telling piece of Tatum’s struggles probably came against the Jazz the other night. With the opportunity to hit a game-winning shot, Grant Williams ended up with the ball in his hands rather than Tatum. But Williams had 23 points on 8/15 shooting prior to getting his shot blocked by Walker Kessler. This is the fork in the road that Boston finds themselves at currently.
This isn’t all on Tatum; truth be told, Brown should be far more involved offensively to help pick Tatum up here. But Tatum is the superstar of this team, and he will play a major role in determining how far Boston goes this season. We saw Tatum fall apart in similar fashion in the NBA Finals last year, though, and you can’t help but feel like something similar is happening with him right now. Tatum is going to have to right the ship himself, and soon, or else the Celtics can kiss their championship hopes goodbye.