Boston Celtics

Why Shane Larkin believes Jayson Tatum can 'easily' be a top five player

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Jayson Tatum (NBA Getty Images)

Even though he's no longer employed by the Boston Celtics, Shane Larkin is all-in on Jayson Tatum's potential.

A backup point guard on the Celtics last season, Larkin told Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe in the offseason that he believes the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft has "unlimited" potential, to the point that Tatum can "easily" become one of the top five players in the league.

"He's 6-foot-10, he's got the ball on a string, he can shoot it with anybody," Larkin said. "Defensively, he's very smart. He's always in the right place, and he's still going to continue to get better and grow and get smarter. And I think with the skill set he already has, he can easily be one of the top five players in the league if he continues to work and lock in and really devote himself to the game."

As a rookie, Tatum averaged an efficient 13.9 points per game on the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. He was even better in the playoffs, with an average of 18.5 points per game as the No. 1 scoring option on a Celtics team missing Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

He had several notable performances along the way, from scoring 28 points against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of the second round to putting up 24 points in an elimination game against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

How Tatum scored those points is just as impressive as the raw numbers. He proved to be one of the best shooters in the league in the regular season by knocking down 48.0 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts. Being a reliable threat from 3-point range at his position helped him make an immediate impact on a contender built around established All-Stars in Irving and Al Horford.

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Tatum also flashed his potential in creating his own offense in the regular season, both in isolation and pick-and-rolls. His go-to shot in those situations was a midrange pull-up, which he made at a 42.8 percent clip.

Play Type Frequency Points Per Game Points Per Possession Percentile
Spot-up 27.4% 4.3 1.18 87.8
Transition 19.4% 3.1 1.22 73.4
Pick-and-Roll 12.3% 1.5 0.92 80.3
Isolation 10.6% 1.2 0.82 43.1
Post-up 4.1% 0.5 0.93 65.7

Tatum wasn't as efficient of a shooter from distance in the playoffs - not a huge surprise considering Boston was without its best playmaker in Irving - but he upped his frequency in isolation (20.3 percent) and the post (5.5 percent).

It resulted in an almost 50-50 split between his assisted and unassisted field goals, a stark difference from the regular season.

Play Type Frequency Points Per Game Points Per Possession Percentile
Spot-up 19.8% 3.5 0.99 40.7
Transition 15.7% 3.6 1.26 78.8
Pick-and-Roll 11.9% 1.7 0.80 47.4
Isolation 20.3% 3.3 0.90 51.0
Post-up 5.5% 1.4 1.37 96.9

Tatum's efficiency on those plays should only get better, too. While the combination of his shooting and defense gives him a high floor as a 3-and-D wing, developing into the type of scorer who can pick apart mismatches will help him become "one of the top five players" Larkin believes he has the potential to be.

It's what makes him breaking down a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in the closing minutes of a tightly contested postseason game so encouraging:

The same goes for him using his height and length to his advantage when being defended by a smaller player:

Tatum even made strides as a 3-point shooter off the dribble in the playoffs. He went from taking 0.8 pull-up 3-pointers per game during the regular season to 2.2 in the postseason, and he made 34.1 percent of those opportunities.

The next step for Tatum is doing all of those things in greater volume. A healthy Celtics team with Irving, Hayward, Horford and Jaylen Brown won't need him to handle the ball as much as he did in playoffs - something that will test his ability to stay involved in games, Larkin notes - but there is clearly a path for the 20-year-old to be one of the best players in the league if last season was a sign of what's to come.

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