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All-Star 2020

The key to Jayson Tatum's development into an All-Star

Jayson Tatum's star potential shined bright in his rookie season with the Boston Celtics.

After finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting behind Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, Tatum went on to have a historic postseason run that almost resulted in an NBA Finals appearance. He led a Celtics team that was without its two-best scorers in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, culminating in a 24-point performance against LeBron James in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Many believed Tatum would carry that momentum into his sophomore season.

He didn't.

Tatum still had a solid sophomore season, but he didn't make the leap he was expected to. His scoring improved only slightly while his efficiency declined across the board, the result of some questionable changes to his shot selection.

MORE: All-Star is a good reminder to appreciate greatness

This season, Tatum has gotten his development back on track. Heading into All-Star Weekend, he's averaging a career-best 22.4 points for the third-seeded Celtics, earning him an All-Star selection for the first time in his career. He's emerged as a go-to scorer for one of the best teams in the league, all while establishing himself as an All-NBA-type defender.

When the Celtics selected Tatum with the third pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, this is the type of player they envisioned him to be.

However, if there is one knock on Tatum so far this season, it's still his efficiency - he's shooting a career-low 44.3 percent from the field, partly because he got off to such a slow start this season. It hasn't been as much of a problem as it was last season, though, because he's taking much smarter shots.

Specifically, the long 2s that everyone criticized Tatum for falling in love with last season have turned into pull-up 3s and drives to the basket. As a result, almost two-thirds of his shot attempts have come at the rim or the 3-point line.

The latter is more important than the former for Tatum, although it shouldn't be ignored that he's been one of the best off-the-dribble 3-point shooters in the league this season. As I detailed in the summer, his free throw rate plummeted to Jae Crowder and Robert Covington levels last season because he turned a lot of his drives to the rim into midrange pull-ups. It wasn't hard to find examples of him settling for a tough step back or turnaround instead of attacking the basket, even when he had a step on his defender.

It was clearly a point of emphasis for Tatum heading into the season because he has doubled the frequency with which he's driving. He's still not creating much offence for his teammates when he puts the ball on the floor - the great John Schuhmann noted that Tatum has the fourth-lowest passing rate among players currently averaging a handful of drives per game - but he's now among the league leaders in scoring off of drives.

He's also generating the bulk of his free throws off of drives.

Jayson Tatum on drives
Season Drives PPG FG-FGA FG% FT-FTA FT%
2017-18 5.7 3.6 1.3-2.9 44.9 0.9-1.1 85.7
2018-19 5.6 3.1 1.3-2.8 46.0 0.4-0.5 89.5
2019-20 10.5 7.6 2.9-6.1 47.9 1.5-1.9 81.9

It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that good things happen when Tatum gets to the rim. At 6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, he has the size and length - not to mention the athleticism - to score over forwards and centers. He put it on display time and time again in Boston's win over the LA Clippers before All-Star Weekend, a game in which he finished with 39 points on 14-for-23 shooting from the field.

The bulk of Tatum's scoring came against Clippers guard Landry Shamet, but there were a couple of occasions where he took it to Kawhi Leonard down the stretch. Instead of settling for jump shots in those situations, Tatum put his head down for strong finishes at the rim. It was a reminder of how much he's improved since last season.

"He's just more assertive," Leonard said of Tatum after the game. "They're giving him the ball. They trust him, he trusts himself and he's doing his thing."

That's not to say Tatum doesn't still have room to grow. He might be getting to the rim more this season, but he's still not a great finisher when he gets there. He's attempting more free throws, but he's still not attempting many compared to other 20-point per game scorers. He's been one of the best volume pull-up 3-point shooters, but it's one thing doing it for 50 games, it's another doing it for multiple seasons like Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry.

Even so, Tatum deserves a ton of credit for the way in which he's changed his shot profile. It's been the key to him earning the first of what the Celtics can only hope are many more All-Star selections to come.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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