Kyrie Irving continues to draw most of the attention of any Celtics player with his big decision pending — and Terry Rozier’s mini-media tour at an end. All eyes were on Irving throughout the regular season, as well, whether it was for the right reasons or the wrong ones. After him, Gordon Hayward’s up-and-down return from his injury was the top concern, creating doubt about what he’ll look like throughout the remainder of his contract. Jaylen Brown had such a bizarre start to the 2018-19 season that it made his turnaround almost equally as shocking.
Mixed in the bunch was Jayson Tatum, who was coming off about as good a rookie season as anyone could hope for. Whether it was advice he received from Kobe Bryant, the return of Irving and Hayward, or the drama — trade-related or the in-house nonsense — Tatum didn’t progress like everyone expected him to in 2018-19. He scored more on average (13.9 points per game in 2017-18 to 15.1 in 2018-19) and felt comfortable enough to take more shots (up to 13.1 attempts a night from 10.4), but he was slightly less efficient from the floor (down from 47.5 to 45 percent). Now, he only dropped to 48.3 percent on two-point attempts after shooting 49.2 percent in 2017-18, but his three-point percentage took a fairly significant hit (down to 37.3 from 43.4).
Then he scuffled through the first two games of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Bucks and didn’t exactly have his best shooting night in Game 5 — all of this coming after he shot the lights out against the Pacers (19.3 points per game, 50.9 field goal percentage and 53.3 three-point percentage), who, of course, weren’t nearly on the same level as Milwaukee.
The new personal coach and reintegration of two stars are enough to throw any player off, never mind the unnecessary added tension all the Celtics dealt with throughout the year. Regardless of the excuses — and the validity of them — Tatum took a lateral step in his sophomore season. There’s certainly a case that he even took a step backward. That doesn’t mean he won’t restart his trend toward NBA stardom in 2019-20, though it’s not exactly safe to assume he will either.
So it’s not a surprise that some around the NBA think Tatum won’t turn into the level of player he was projected to after his rookie year. When discussing a possible move that could send Tatum and other assets to Washington for Bradley Beal, one Eastern Conference scout expressed to Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington, Tatum is viewed differently now.
“Tatum’s stock took a hit this season,” the scout said.
Standig also reported, “others made similar claims during the season as the playmaking forward appeared lost at times played with Irving.”
The only thing that’s clear at this point: next season will carry an immense amount of weight in regard to Tatum’s career projection. Because if he has a similar output to 2018-19, then what we’ve seen is all we’re going to get.