Celtics

Tatum, Brown in Boston’s Driver Seat

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It’s been a tough offseason for the Boston Celtics as a franchise, but a blessing in disguise for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Gordon Hayward bolted to sign with the Charlotte Hornets. Kemba Walker is expected to be sidelined with a lingering knee issue the first month of the season.

It’s officially Tatum and Brown’s team. Best of all, the C’s have the young duo locked up until the 2023-24 season. Due to the midseason hiatus, the tandem came into the bubble playoffs with an extra offseason’s worth of growth.

TATUM’S GROWTH: THE FRANCHISE PLAYER

Before the shutdown, Tatum earned All-Star honors by averaging 23.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists. The forward also shot 45% from the field and cracked 40% from three-point range.

Tatum’s performance skyrocketed in the 17 games prior to the hiatus. He averaged an astonishing 29 points and eight rebounds on 48% shooting and 46% from deep. He was pulling threes from 30-plus feet with ease. He was racking up free throw attempts and launched nine threes a game. Gone were the days of Tatum chucking long twos as he quickly transformed himself into one of the league’s most efficient players in the league.

He provided career performances including 39 points in an overtime victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, out-dueling Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Tatum dominated versus the Los Angeles Lakers in Staples, dropping 41 points in a tight loss. Tatum’s progression as an offensive centerpiece was on display this game as Frank Vogel prioritized getting the ball out of his hands. The Lakers would run a second defender at Tatum as soon as he crossed half court, eerily similar to how defenses play James Harden.

They threw everybody at him, from Danny Green to LeBron James and even Anthony Davis. After the game, the King posted an Instagram picture of the two at the scorer’s table, crowning Tatum as “The Problem”.

DARK HORSE MVP CANDIDATE?

That new plateau Tatum achieved before the bubble wasn’t a fluke. His scoring took a leap from the regular season, from 23.4 to 25.7 points per game in the playoffs. His rebounds increased to double digits, from 7.0 to 10.0. Perhaps the most surprising improvement was his playmaking. Tatum has long been lauded for his scoring ability, but many criticized his loose ball handling and low assist numbers. In the postseason, a player who averaged 3.0 assists per game in his career upped that number to 5.0.

Past seasons indicate that gaudy stats and interesting narratives plays a massive part in MVP campaigns. Tatum has proved he can put up impressive numbers, but now the narrative is there. The C’s all-star point guard is sidelined for at least the first month of the season. Hayward followed Kyrie Irving and Al Horford by leaving Boston as a free agent, creating questions of the culture in the franchise.

Is There a Culture Problem in Boston?

In addition, the Celtics roster is rife with young, unproven players as bench depth. The addition of Jeff Teague is a downgrade from Kemba but gives Stevens a pass-first initiator to run the show. The roster the C’s will be working with at the start of the season will force a higher usage rate from Tatum. If he continues his postseason performance, let alone his pre-shutdown rampage, expect him to be an early MVP favorite.

BROWN’S GROWTH: THE SECONDARY STAR

Jaylen Brown saw growth as well. After a rough 2018-19 season which saw Brown fall to a bench role, he bounced back as the third option. Pre-bubble, he had a career year which saw him fall just short of his first All-Star appearance. He averaged north of 20 points per contest while shooting 48.1% from the field and knocking down 38.2% of his six three-point attempts per game.

There was a dramatic improvement in his ball handling, which was arguably his biggest weakness. Before, Brown would struggle to get to the basket because he would be forced to sprint to the rim in a straight line. Last season, he displayed a new ability to work his way through the defense while maintaining control and finding the opening.

Brown’s growth continued in the bubble as well. He upped his scoring to 21.8 points per game while maintaining his efficiency. The biggest area of growth was his free throw shooting. Brown struggled from the stripe his whole career, shooting a subpar 67.8%. Before the bubble, he shot 72.4%, but improved to 84.1% in Orlando. If Brown can maintain that percentage, he will take the next step offensively.

FIRST-TIME ALL-STAR?

With Walker and Hayward out, we will finally see Jaylen Brown unleashed. He has never been a featured piece in Stevens’ offense due to his lack of ball handling. Armed with his improvements, expect him to be the 1B to Tatum’s 1A.

Does this cement his first All-Star selection this season? There will not be a physical All-Star Game this season, but selections will still be honored. The East is getting deeper with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant returning to the Brooklyn Nets. Jrue Holiday adds a third potential all-star to the Milwaukee Bucks. Miami has locks in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Bradley Beal looks to make the playoffs with his new backcourt mate, former MVP Russell Westbrook. As the clear-cut second option, Brown has a shot. When you factor the inevitable coronavirus DNP’s that every team will have to deal with, anything is possible.

Both Tatum and Brown clearly benefitted from the nearly five-month shutdown and their postseason performances clearly showed that. But due to the quick turnaround this year, the C’s only had 79 days between their Game 6 loss vs. Miami and their preseason opener. Can we expect another massive leap from the duo? More than likely, the two will continue their postseason performance into the new season.

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About Ahmed Warfa

Boston born and raised. Moved to Florida in 2019 to attend the University of Miami in Coral Gables. Always grew up a Boston sports fan and want to continue my career covering my hometown Celtics.

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