Boston Celtics

Draymond Green makes great point in Jayson Tatum NBA MVP debate

Tatum is not in the top three in most MVP rankings despite the Celtics' enormous success.

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Jayson Tatum is the best player on the NBA's best team and playing at a very high level with great stats. In a lot of seasons, that would be enough to warrant significant league MVP consideration -- not a guarantee to win the award, but at least be considered in the top three.

And yet, Tatum finds himself outside the top three in most MVP rankings, including the highly respected MVP straw poll of likely voters conducted multiple times per season by ESPN's Tim Bontemps.

Tatum was sixth in Bontemps' most recent poll, which was revealed Feb. 13. The players ahead of him were, in order of No. 1 to No. 5, Nikola Jokic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Kawhi Leonard.

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green has an issue with where Tatum falls in these MVP rankings. In fact, he argued on the latest episode of his podcast, The Draymond Green Show, that the same standard applied to recent winners isn't being applied to Tatum.

"The Celtics are 7.5 games ahead of the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference," Green said. "Do people think the Celtics are that great to where Jayson Tatum is only in fifth (in the race)? Sometimes it's like, that team is winning and that guy is the best player and playing well. In this situation, clearly that's not the goalpost.

"Clearly the goalposts have shifted dramatically, because in this guy's case, he's fifth? And (his team) has a 7.5-game lead in the conference? The goalposts have moved on Jayson Tatum. I know what JT has to do. JT will not be taken seriously for MVP until he wins a championship, and it just hasn't been that way for everybody else, I must say. It wasn't that way for Nikola Jokic. It wasn't that way for Giannis Antetokounmpo. It wasn't that way for Joel Embiid. It just really hasn't been that way for everybody else, so I don't know how it ended up that way for JT.

"Maybe it's because he got to the NBA Finals and lost, and everybody is like, 'Oh, you had your chance,' but golly, that's brutal, that's tough. I'm not sure how JT always lags behind in this voting. Seven-and-a-half games! Yes, by the way, the Boston Celtics are a good team. The Denver Nuggets are great. They have a really good team. I don't really know what to say. Well, I do know what to say. JT's gotta go win the NBA Finals in order to get taken seriously as an MVP. Young fella, I don't know how the goalposts moved on you like that, but they should acknowledge it."

Jayson Tatum talks through his disconnect with the media about the MVP race, but he also says he's focused on making those around him better and winning a championship.

Green is right. The goalposts have moved for Tatum. Nikola Jokic won two league MVPs (2021 and 2022) before winning the NBA Finals last season. Antetokounmpo also won two MVPs (2019 and 2020) before winning his first title in 2021. Embiid won MVP a year ago even though he's never advanced past the second round of the playoffs. His Game 7 performance against the Celtics in the conference semifinals last season was abysmal. Tatum scored 51 points in that game, by the way.

It does seem like Tatum is being punished for having so much success early in his career. His Celtics teams made the Eastern Conference Finals four times and the NBA Finals once over his first six seasons. He hasn't won a championship yet, but the nine of the last 10 MVP awards went to players who, at the time, hadn't won a title. The only exception is Stephen Curry in 2016. He won his first ring in 2015.

Some people would point to Tatum's stats not being good enough. That's a little silly, since he's averaging 26.9 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game, while shooting 47.5 from the field and 36.4 percent from 3-point range. These aren't eye-popping numbers but still really good. His defense has been excellent this season, too. If Tatum wanted to score 30-plus points per game, he easily could. He did so last season. But when you're on a team like the Celtics with so many good players, you want to make sure everyone is getting enough shots.

The race isn't over by any means. There's still more than a month of the regular season left to play, so Tatum does have a good opportunity during this stretch to show voters why he's a top MVP candidate. Tatum and the Celtics have bigger goals than league MVP -- it's Banner 18 or bust this season -- but regardless, the 25-year-old superstar deserves a lot more respect in the MVP race than he's currently receiving.

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