Jayson Tatum’s first game in Orlando was not pretty.
He went 2-for-18, scoring only 5 points against Milwaukee on July 31.
He didn’t even actually make one of those shots, as one was actually a missed defensive rebound opportunity by the Bucks which they accidentally knocked back into the basket.
Since that game, Tatum has been on fire.
In 8 games following the Milwaukee debacle, Tatum is averaging 27.1 PPG.
He’s shooting 53.8% from the field and 51.6% from three while taking 7.8 three point shots per game (you read that right). His eFG% is 65.4%, while his TS% is 69.4%.
The Celtics are 7-1 in these games, including two wins against the 76ers, as Boston has taken a 2-0 series lead in the first round.
Here’s a look at Tatum this postseason and why he’s been so damn awesome.
Game 1: 32 points (10-for-21, 2-for-5 from three)
As I noted on Wednesday, Tatum had a stretch in Game 1 where he scored 22 points in about 14 minutes. When he gets going, he REALLY gets going.
Looking back at the highlights for Game 1, you get really excited at the potential Tatum has – and what he is already showing – as an isolation scorer.
During the regular season, Tatum had 239 points in isolation, which was 6th in the NBA. To my surprise, he scored more points overall, and per possession, in isolation than Giannis. His shooting percentages were on par with James Harden in similar situations, but his FT rate was very low, something he can improve upon moving forward.
Going back to the game. Tatum created several good looks for himself. Late in the second quarter he drove on Matisse Thybulle (who guarded him pretty well during the game), but stepped back, thus creating separation for an easy pull-up mid-range bucket.
He excelled driving to the lane and making difficult floaters and runners.
After a pick set by Gordon Hayward in the third quarter, Josh Richardson recovered, and Tatum proceeded to slightly hesitate as if he were going to shoot a mid-range shot, went to his left, then made a spin move to his right, moving forward for a contested (but made) layup.
It was an array of difficult shots, which, in addition to getting to the line at will, led to 32 points. Even though he went 10-for-21 with only 2 threes and was mostly contained by Thybulle, this game showed how he can generate offense. You can argue Boston should have went to him even more during the game, but regardless, a good night at the office.
Game 2: 33 points (12-for-20, 8-for-12 from three)
Game 2 was a shot-making clinic by Tatum.
He only took two free throws (just one make) with one less field goal attempt compared to Game 1, yet he scored one more point.
What impressed me personally was what Tatum did in the pick-and-roll, capitalizing on Philadelphia’s defensive coverage.
Throughout the series thus far, when a big for Boston such as Daniel Theis or Enes Kanter is on the perimeter, Joel Embiid is leaving a massive amount of space for that player. He is standing in the paint, almost daring said player to get the ball and shoot.
Boston has seen that, and been running a lot of high pick-and-rolls and dribble handoffs to Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum. Kemba Walker is typically a deadly pull up three point shooter, and the type of shot Philadelphia is offering seems perfect for him… yet it’s been Tatum taking and making those shots (Walker found his own success in Game 2, but this is about Tatum).
Look at this picture.
Enes Kanter just set a pick for Jayson Tatum. Matisse Thybule went over the pick, and is now trailing behind Tatum. Tatum can do two things here. He can begin driving towards the lane and either try to score on Joel Embiid or find Kanter driving to the rim, or (as he did) he can pull up for three.
This is not to say Thybulle can’t disrupt this shot. If he gets back a bit quicker, he could deflect the ball or block the shot, or he could simply initiate contact on Tatum before JT has a chance to get into a shooting motion (note: Tatum could also aggressively seek that contact and force a foul on Thybulle if he pleases, but he’s not at that James Harden level of grifting just yet).
Tatum hit two threes in the PnR like this in Game 2 after hitting one on Monday. He also used the pick to get some good layups or shots near the rim.
If you go to 0:17 in in the video, you’ll see Daniel Theis set a pick, then rolled towards the bucket. However, he provided Tatum some space with a brief seal on Joel Embiid. This allowed him to attempt a tough floater, one that become more likely of going in due to the space created by Theis.
Daniel Theis is a master of sealing, and you can find several plays during the season where he helps guys get easy layups because of it. These don’t get counted as assists, but they might as well be treated like them.
Want an awesome example of a seal? Go to 3:32 in the video and watch Grant Williams after he initially sets a pick for Jayson Tatum.
Tatum also hit 3 three point shots in the game using what has become his trademark sidestep three. He used to attempt this shot a lot last season and it irked me, but I cannot deny how good he’s become at it now.
These numbers were pulled by Max Carlin just as Jayson Tatum was going on his supernova streak before the NBA season was suspended, but shows even before then how good of a pull up three point shooter he was becoming.
Tatum is in elite territory as a wing for how efficient he is with these types of shots, and going back to him as an isolation scorer, it will only bode well moving forward.
Again, Tatum was killing it with these shots in Game 2. To see Tatum going to work, go to 0:07, 0:44, and 4:21 in the video.
If Philadelphia is going to continue to let Tatum work in isolation or have easy PnR opportunities, he’s going to continue to torch them.
Towards the end of Game 2 the Sixers began playing more zone defense, but once the initial shock wore off, Boston simply just passed the ball and worked to find the open man. This gave Tatum a wide open three early in the 4th quarter.
What makes Boston so hard to stop is they have three great and unselfish scorers. If Philly goes all-in on focusing on Tatum, either sending an extra man on his drives or having a big come closer on those pick-and-rolls, as long as he makes the right read in a pass, it won’t take long to find an efficient scorer. This could still be Philly’s best chance at slowing down Tatum by making him think on his feet and force him into making a play, but if he slows things down, you could just end up with one of his many isolation moves leading to a bucket.
Philly was in a challenging spot regardless due to not having Ben Simmons, an All-NBA defender who had success guarding Tatum this season. Still, this series, and his performances since the Milwaukee game, show how special he is already, and how bright his future will be.
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