"Point Tatum" is not a new phenomenon. The Boston Celtics have routinely asked All-Star forward Jayson Tatum to bring the ball up the court and initiate the offense. The departure of Marcus Smart will simply provide more opportunities during the 2023-24 season for Tatum to operate as the quarterback of the offense.
The question to be answered: Is more Point Tatum a good thing for the Celtics?
One of the greatest areas of growth from Tatum in recent seasons has been his ability to create for others. As we often see with star players, the game slows down, their court vision improves, and teammates generate better looks because of it. It’s not as jarring now for Tatum to come off a pick-and-roll and whip a LeBron-like cross-court pass to an open shooter.
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While there is certainly a balance that needs to be struck in allowing players like Derrick White to initiate the offense and limiting just how much Tatum has to work on that end, the numbers do suggest that Tatum can thrive with increased ball-handling responsibility.
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Last season, Tatum spent 416 minutes on the court with neither Smart, Malcolm Brogdon, nor Payton Pritchard on the floor. Boston posted a +16.3 net rating with a 123.3 offensive rating in that span, per PBP Stats.
Only 12 of those minutes were spent without White alongside, so it’s vital for Boston to have another ball-handler (and willing ball-mover) on the floor with Tatum. But it’s encouraging that Boston’s offensive numbers were as robust as they were without a so-called pure point guard in the mix.
A look at Boston’s advanced numbers based on floor time shared with Tatum last season (per PBP Stats):
If Tatum is to spend more time initiating Boston's offense, he does need to tap back into some of the efficiency that he lost last year as a pick-and-roll ball-handler.
Here’s a look at the NBA’s tracking data on Tatum in that playtype over the past four seasons, with rank by league percentile in points-per-play:
Tatum’s overall efficiency as a pick-and-roll ball-handler has dipped in each of the last three seasons, even as his overall scoring efficiency has improved. Tatum’s assist percentage has bubbled up over 20 percent in each of the last two seasons, an encouraging trend, and now he must simply marry that ability to create with doing it more often in point guard actions.
Here’s the most promising part: Having a versatile offensive player like Kristaps Porzingis on the court this season could further unlock Tatum as a playmaker.
Last season, the combo of Al Horford and Sam Hauser shot 48.3 percent (69 of 143) off passes from Tatum. They had the two best 3-point percentages off Tatum passes on the team last year, and it’s undeniably intriguing to think about Porzingis getting a whole bunch of open shots off the attention that both Tatum and Jaylen Brown will draw.
Ultimately, putting the ball in your best player’s hands is rarely a bad thing for teams. The Celtics acknowledged that, and moving on from someone like Smart will force players like Tatum and Brown to spread their wings more, both on the court and off.
The Celtics will get an extra heaping of Point Tatum this season, and it’s on Tatum to show his growth in that role while maximizing the team’s efficiency in those moments.