Explaining Jayson Tatum’s rise to stardom

Jayson Tatum has been on a tear as of late for the Boston Celtics. We’ll take a look at how his game has elevated, and where this success has come from.

After Jayson Tatum‘s rookie year, people knew he would be a star for the Boston Celtics. His incredible playoff run went all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, where he and the Celtics took LeBron James all the way to game seven.

He even provided fans with one of the best dunks in recent memory as he put James on a poster in that same game seven:

His second season was projected to build on his first, but other factors contributed to that not happening.

Tatum saw his stats increase marginally, but his shooting percentages dipped. They still remained decent (45 percent from the field, 37 percent from three), but the improvement that most expected was delayed.

Among the reasons for his struggles was Kyrie Irving. It isn’t fair to pin an individual as the reason for another’s struggles, but the storylines that Kyrie generated were ones that are not helpful for a young squad. As a team trying to learn and grow, many got the sense that he was holding them back. The Boston Celtics were not the right team for Kyrie Irving.

A second issue, and the main knock on Tatum’s game up until this point, was shot selection. To show what I am talking about, let’s look at his shooting splits from different parts of the court.

Last season, Tatum took 429 pull-up jumpers. Those types of shots accounted for greater than 40 percent of his offense. He took 318 pull-up shots inside the arc, and he shot 388 from within 10 feet of the basket. For most players, there should be a bigger difference between those numbers.

This season, Tatum has already eclipsed his number of threes (372) and shots within 10 feet (390) from his last season. That means his deep twos and his poor shots have dropped in frequency, and he has become a better decision-maker on offense (NBA.com).

His pull-up jumpers have become a bigger focal point of his offense (43 percent frequency), but he is taking more pull-ups from the 3-point line.

Part of the issue last season was the offense. Gordon Hayward was rushed back, and Kyrie Irving was getting the ball for a majority of each possession. When defenses stayed with Kyrie, he kicked it out to Tatum, or another player, and they were forced to take a low-quality shot.

Tatum has been the primary scorer for the Boston Celtics this season, leading the team in points. His usage rate from last season to now has increased, too. It has seen a sizable jump from 21.8 to 27.5. That type of increase is big for a player in his third season. Increased opportunity leads to increased productivity for those who make the most out of their time.

It is safe to say that Tatum has made the most out of his.

Another helpful piece is the people around him. Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, and Marcus Smart are all players without egos, and have allowed for Tatum to shine. When he isn’t getting it going, Tatum then knows to get the hot hand involved.

That type of recognition from Tatum has been another reason for his improvement. He has balanced his scoring with that of his teammates and has made the team more versatile and hard to scheme against. You never know if Walker, Brown, Tatum, or Hayward will drop 30 points. Even Smart has chipped in with the occasional 30 point performance.

Boston Celtics

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Being alongside unselfish players will always be a positive thing for any young star. Jayson Tatum is just one example of that.

Just to name another one, Zion Williamson has found himself in a nice situation with the New Orleans Pelicans. With Jrue Holiday, J.J. Redick, Lonzo Ball, and even Brandon Ingram alongside him, he has gotten his touches and has made the most.

Related Story: Daniel Theis has been an unsung hero for the Celtics

While Tatum doesn’t have the size and athleticism that Zion has, he has shown his shot-making abilities over the course of the season. His stepback jumper will soon become synonymous with the mention of his name. He has figured out his strengths and is capitalizing on them.

The real test will come in the playoffs.

Jayson Tatum has been on both the good and the bad sides of playoff runs, and even at just 21 years old, has the ability to drown out the noise and do his thing in May. It’ll be interesting to see how teams attack him in the postseason.

For now, let us all enjoy this stretch of games. We are all witnessing the start of a star player’s evolution to a bonafide superstar. The Boston Celtics have their next franchise player.

Next: Celtics: Grading each player's first half performance