Celtics player spotlight: Jayson Tatum has one more big leap to make


From an individual standpoint, Jayson Tatum checked every box in 2021-22.

He averaged career highs across the board. He landed on the All-NBA First Team for the first time. He finished sixth in the NBA MVP voting and was the clear-cut best player on the best team in the Eastern Conference.

But the one box he didn't check was "NBA champion," as the Boston Celtics star struggled with his shot in an NBA Finals series loss to Stephen Curry and the seasoned Golden State Warriors.

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The good news for Boston fans is that Tatum is just 24 years old and now has plenty of motivation entering Year 6.

"We've got to take it up to another level to do what we want to do," Tatum said after Boston's Game 6 loss to the Warriors.

What does "taking it up to another level" entail for the Celtics' brightest star? We continue our player spotlight series by highlighting Tatum's accomplishments -- and his areas of improvement.

Tatum's 2021-22 stats

  • Regular season: 26.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.0 spg, 45.3 percent FG, 35.3 percent 3PT (76 games)
  • Postseason: 25.6 pgg, 6.7 rpg, 6.2 apg, 1.2 spg, 42.6 percent FG, 39.3 percent 3PT (24 games)

Tatum's contract situation

Tatum is set to make $30.4 million in 2022-23 on the second year of his five-year, $163 million maximum rookie-scale contract extension. He has a player option for the 2025-26 season and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2026.

What role will Tatum play on the 2022-23 Celtics?

Tatum again will be Boston's workhorse -- ideally with slightly less work.

Tatum logged a total of 3,714 minutes between the regular season and playoffs in 2021-22, by far the most in the NBA. That workload appeared to catch up to him in the Finals, where he shot just 36.7 percent from the floor and 31.6 percent on 2-point attempts.

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The superstar likely will lead the Celtics in minutes again in 2022-23 as the focal point of their offense and a key cog in their defense. But the offseason additions of Danilo Gallinari and Malcolm Brogdon give Boston an injection of depth that could allow head coach Ime Udoka to manage Tatum's minutes a bit more over 82 games.

Tatum's season will be a success if ...

... The Celtics win a title.

That's what Tatum will tell us, anyway. After earning nearly every individual accomplishment last season -- including the inaugural Larry Bird Trophy as the Eastern Conference Finals MVP -- Tatum's primary goal should be leading Boston to a championship.

Tatum has a very good chance of accomplishing that goal if he continues to develop as a playmaker: The Celtics won 18 of 23 regular-season games in which Tatum recorded at least six assists and went a perfect 7-0 in the playoffs when he dropped at least eight dimes.

Tatum is one of the NBA's most well-rounded scorers and is an elite defender who earned a handful of All-Defense votes. If he can continue to rack up assists while limiting turnovers, it will be hard to find any faults in his game.

Biggest obstacles to Tatum's success

Fatigue and turnovers.

Tatum is getting some well-deserved time off after a 22-month basketball marathon that included a gold medal with Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics. No team has a shorter offseason than the Celtics, however, and if he continues to log heavy minutes this season, it's possible that fatigue catches up to him in the postseason.

Fatigue sometimes manifests itself in careless turnovers, and that's one area Tatum needs to clean up: He committed an NBA-record 100 turnovers over 24 postseason games. That high number is partially a byproduct of Tatum's high usage rate, but the margin for error is slim at the game's highest level.

Projected stats and prediction for Tatum's 2022-23 season

Projected stats: 26.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 5.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 45.5 percent FG, 37.5 percent 3PT (72 games)

With a stronger supporting cast, Tatum should be a more efficient (albeit slightly less productive) scorer in 2022-23. We can also expect a career-high assist total, as Tatum averaged 5.1 assists per game after the All-Star break with Boston's starting five fully intact.

We have little doubt that Tatum can put together another First-Team All-NBA campaign and reinforce his status as one of the league's 10 best players. The true test will come in the postseason, where a gauntlet of talented East opponents will await.

Tatum took some valuable lessons from that Finals loss to the Warriors, however, so we wouldn't be surprised if Boston's best player adds a Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP trophy to his mantle next June.

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