Forsberg: Tatum's gamer status enhances his value


Jayson Tatum revealed Sunday that he played the final months of the 2021-22 season with a non-displaced fracture in his left wrist. This wasn’t particularly shocking information to anyone that watched Tatum repeatedly grab at that wrist late in the year and through the playoffs.

But what it does hammer home is Tatum’s unquenchable desire to be on the court. Save for two bouts with COVID, Tatum has been an ironman despite an insanely heavy basketball workload over the past two years.

Tatum sets record straight on workout with Kevin Durant

Remember when we spent the early days of the pandemic fretting how Tatum didn’t have a basketball hoop at his Boston residence? Those were simpler times.

Tatum had the fourth-highest regular-season minute total in the NBA last season at 2,731. That was 527 minutes more than Giannis Antetokounmpo and 684 minutes more than Kevin Durant, who played only 55 total games.

And that’s before you add in 983 postseason minutes during Boston’s run to the NBA Finals. Tatum’s 3,714 total minutes over 100 games is an astronomical number, particularly in the era of load management.

Consider this: Since the start of the 2014-15 season, only one player has logged a campaign with more total minutes than Tatum did last season. LeBron James piled up 3,948 minutes over 104 games during Cleveland’s 2017-18 season. Roll it back to the start of the 2009-10 season, and an era of heftier workloads, and Tatum still has the 11th highest total in a season.

So much of how we value the NBA’s best players tends to hinge on their impact when they are on the court. But part of what makes Tatum even more valuable is how much he’s actually on the court.

Tatum told Bleacher Report he aggravated the injury in the playoffs against Milwaukee and needed to get a cortisone shot in the aftermath. He said he wore a brace away from the court to aid with the pain.

To his credit, Tatum refused to blame the injury for his struggles in the Finals, noting, “If I’m going out there to play, nothing matters.”

The Celtics added depth this offseason that could help drive down Tatum’s minute total after logging a team-high 35.9 minutes per game last year (Jaylen Brown was 2.3 minutes behind and only three Boston players averaged over 30 minutes overall). Alas, unless the Celtics are in a lot of lopsided games, we don’t suspect Tatum’s minutes will drop too much because of his desire to be on the court.

In a league where some of the biggest stars struggle to consistently stay on the floor, Tatum’s value is elevated by his gamer status. Brad Stevens often noted that the best ability is availability and Tatum’s desire to be on the court every night only enhances his overall value.

Even with the extended season, the absence of international play eased Tatum’s offseason workload this year and should leave him a lot fresher entering the 2022-23 season.

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