If the NBA does not resume play this summer, or if they simply accelerate to the postseason as Jaylen Brown suggested during an interview on CNN this week, then players have essentially submitted their résumés for year-end awards.
Which left us wondering: Did Jayson Tatum’s late surge put him in position for an All-NBA berth?
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In a season in which he already ascended to All-Star status and got dubbed an “absolute problem” by LeBron James, an All-NBA berth would further cement what’s probably now indisputable: That the 22-year-old Tatum is a superstar and could be one of the faces of the league deep into the future.
That’s still a bit of a jarring statement considering Tatum wasn’t even a slam dunk for an All-Star nod as early as January. But with a two-month surge that included being named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for February, Tatum showed he was capable of harnessing all his obvious talents and playing with the sort of killer instinct and swagger that too often waned earlier in his career.
The only thing working against Tatum’s quest for All-NBA is a deep field of forwards who will challenge voters in a season with shortened output. Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Anthony Davis all deserve MVP consideration and seem likely to land the four spots on the NBA’s first and second teams.
Working in Tatum’s favor: The absence of Kevin Durant and the fact that Paul George missed a third of the season.
Tatum is essentially jousting with Eastern Conference brethren like Pascal Siakam, Khris Middleton, and Jimmy Butler for a spot on the third team. If Davis classifies as a center, despite playing more of his minutes at power forward this year, it could even open an opportunity to make a push for the second team.
The case for Tatum is simple: He was the most impactful player on a team trending towards 55 wins and one of the top spots in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics owned a team-best net rating of plus-10.3 when Tatum was on the floor, a bucket better than the next closest regular.
What’s more, Boston’s net rating plummeted to a team-worst minus-1.0 in the 1,054 minutes Tatum was off the court, the only player in the negative and by a large margin (nearest teammate: Gordon Hayward at plus-3.8 net rating during his off-court time).
Tatum’s chances for a spot feel solid, especially considering the final impression he left on voters.
Siakam missed a stretch into the new calendar year and didn’t put up quite as glitzy of numbers as he did at the start of the season, but he was a big reason the Raptors separated a bit from the pack chasing the Bucks. Middleton was the second-best player on a team that looked like it might hit 70 wins (at least before a three-game losing streak going into the suspension of play). Butler has a young Miami team positioned in the top half of the East playoff bracket.
A spot on one of the league’s three All-NBA teams has ramifications beyond just clout for Tatum.
It could help position him to command an even higher starting salary as he becomes extension-eligible this offseason. Instead of a starting salary at 25 percent of wherever the cap falls in two seasons, Tatum’s new deal could be worth up to 30 percent of the the cap when it kicks in for the 2021-22 season.
But more than anything, the All-NBA nod would simply reaffirm that Tatum has arrived. Yes, he put himself on the map with all he did early in his NBA career, including nearly willing the injury-riddled Celtics to the Finals as a rookie. But his play in the final months of the season elevated him to a new level and the All-NBA berth would only serve as further confirmation.