Boston Celtics

Celtics will need Jayson Tatum to excel as playmaker in NBA Finals

Tatum's passing has improved quite a bit since his rookie season.

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Jayson Tatum has improved in many areas since making his debut for the Boston Celtics during the 2017-18 NBA season, and one facet of the game where he's really grown is playmaking.

He's a much better passer right now than he was as a rookie. It's an integral part of his skill set, and it's helped the Celtics reach the NBA Finals for the second time in three years.

Tatum averaged a career-high 4.9 assists per game during the regular season. With a loaded roster thanks to the offseason additions of Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis, Tatum made sure his teammates got enough opportunities. Tatum was able to make this happen and still score 26.9 points per game, while shooting an impressive 47.1 percent from the field and 37.6 percent on 3-point attempts.

Tatum has increased his assist average to 5.9 per game in the playoffs. He tallied eight assists in both Game 3 and Game 4 of the Celtics' Eastern Conference Finals sweep over the Indiana Pacers. Tatum has dished out five or more assists in 79 percent (11 of 14) of the Celtics' playoff games in 2024.

Opposing defenses, unsurprisingly, are devoting a lot of attention to Tatum, and more often than not, he's making the right play -- whether it's beating the double team and creating offense for himself, or finding the open man with a quick pass. He's also been doing a good job driving to the basket, forcing multiple defenders to commit, and then hitting the open teammate on the perimeter.

One of the best examples came late in Game 3 against the Pacers when Tatum found Al Horford with a clever behind-the-back pass for a clutch 3-point shot.

Tatum isn't just excelling as a passer, he's protecting the basketball better, too. His 2.4 turnovers per game represent his lowest total in a playoff run since 2019. His 2.44 assist-to-turnover ratio is the best of his playoff career.

The Celtics will absolutely need Tatum to score at a high level in the NBA Finals, particularly in the clutch. And he's averaging 26 points per game through three rounds despite shooting just 29 percent from 3-point range. But the Celtics need more than scoring from Tatum to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy in a few weeks. They need him to continue to impact the game in a positive way as a playmaker.

The Celtics have a lot of players who can hit an important shot. Derrick White, Jrue Holiday, Jaylen Brown, Tatum and Horford all had their moments in the Pacers series. Trusting your teammates and putting them in positions to succeed is a key part of being an NBA superstar, and Tatum has excelled in that facet throughout the playoffs. If he keeps it up during the Finals, Boston should be in great shape.

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