He was far from bad, averaging 15.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals over 31.1 minutes per game while shooting 45.0 percent from the floor, 37.3 percent from 3-point range and 85.5 percent from the free-throw line, but based on how well he played during his rookie year, people expected more.
Tatum’s inconsistency throughout the 2018-19 NBA campaign had a lot to do with his shot selection, as he took an inordinate amount of mid-range jumpers and did not get to the basket enough, resulting in a less-than-stellar free-throw rate of 2.9 foul shots per game.
For a guy as talented as Tatum who can easily create mismatches due to his length and athleticism, that is inexcusable.
There is no reason why Tatum should be settling for contested mid-range jumpers in isolation mode when he could be taking his opponent off the dribble and getting to the basket or taking advantage of mismatches in the post.
The good news is that the 21-year-old says he is aiming to clean up his shot selection this coming season, which could lead to bigger and better things from Tatum in 2019-20. The first preseason game was a good sign, with Tatum scoring 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting and 3-of-8 from 3-point range.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons why Tatum could break out this year.
For one thing, he is entering his third season, which is generally the year most guys take a big leap. Plus, Kyrie Irving is no longer around to weigh down the locker room, and with Al Horford also gone, Tatum will be taking on more responsibility.
Couple that with Tatum’s dedication to taking better shots, and the third-year forward should be on his way to a big season.
The thing is, we know Tatum is capable of pretty extraordinary things.
As a rookie, he had a marvelous playoff showing and went toe-to-toe with LeBron James in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals, which included a poster dunk over James.
It was that moment where many felt Tatum had already arrived, but really, he was still just beginning his learning curve and obviously had a long way to go based on how up and down he was this past year.
But it’s clear as day that the talent is there for Tatum, whom the Celtics took with the No. 3 overall pick in 2017 for a reason.
Boston lost a number of key players this summer. It wasn’t just Irving and Horford. It was also Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes, all of whom played pivotal roles on the Celtics in each of Tatum’s first two seasons.
With those guys all playing elsewhere now, Tatum’s role will increase.
Yes, the Celtics did sign Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter, and Gordon Hayward seems likely to have a much better season this year. But with Boston losing a significant chunk of its depth, it will have to rely that much more on its starters, and that means Tatum will have to deliver.
Given that he now has two full years under his belt and seems to have recognized that his shot selection in his second season was not all that healthy, the Celtics appear to be in good hands with Tatum.