Boston Celtics Forward Jayson Tatum has carried over his excellent play from early 2020 into the bubble. His scoring is on par with his hot stretch, scoring at a high rate and mixing it with good efficiency. He looks as locked in as ever on the defensive end, and he is turning into a vocal leader for this young team
However, the part that I have been most impressed with is his noticeable improvement in court vision. If you just looked at the raw numbers you probably would not even notice this trend, but watching the tape you can see him making reads he rarely made beforehand.
Before the bubble Tatum was averaging roughly 2.9 assists per game and commonly displayed “tunnel vision.” He would get the ball and his mindset was to score, and rightfully so; he is a very gifted scorer. He would regularly miss open reads that were quite frankly not even tough to see.
Occasionally he would make a simple kick out pass, or a simple drop off pass in a 2 on 1 situation, basic one pass away reads. But, nothing that made you think “he has some potential here as a passer.”
Being able to read the floor, know where the help is coming from, and manipulating defenses is something that comes with time. Young players don’t get it right away, and you tend to see vision and overall IQ improve with time in the league. Let’s take a look at Tatum’s career AST% per cleaningtheglass.com through his first 3 seasons in the league, and then again in the bubble.
You can see a massive jump here whilst play has resumed in Orlando. This could be due to a number of factors. First of all, teams are sending more defenders his way and paying more attention to him as a scorer, a lot of the time forcing the ball out of his hands, where he has done a good job finding the open man.
This pass impresses me a ton, Tatum drives and Portland does a good job helping on it. The first read here is to swing it to the corner to Brad Wanamaker. However, Gary Trent Jr does a great job on the weak side rotation and takes that away. Tatum reads that and delivers an on time and on target pass to Jaylen Brown for 3.
Another factor to his improved play making ability is his improved handle. He’s gotten comfortable enough with his handle to where he can keep his head up while probing. This allows him to read the defense while continuing to get to where he wants to go. This also eliminates some of that tunnel vision I mentioned.
Outside of passing out of doubles and traps, he has improved a ton on driving and kicking immediately instead of just jumping into the wall. Here is an example of Tatum kicking out the ball as soon as he sees the help at the rim.
Tatum’s improvements as a passer stem from three things. First of all, teams are treating him like a superstar and doubling/shading his way more often. Creating additional passing opportunities. Secondly, his improvement in keeping his head up while attacking is allowing him to see more. Lastly, and most importantly, he knows he has to. He understands the treatment he is getting from opposing teams and knows he can make great plays for others off of this.
Most wings don’t figure out passing and reading the floor right away when they enter the league. It takes time. It took time for Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler and many other wings. These are baby steps for Tatum but I have confidence that he will continue to improve in this area.