Jayson Tatum can't keep missing layups like he did against Atlanta

Nick Friar
January 04, 2020 - 6:30 am
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There are still games where layups aren’t Jayson Tatum’s friend. Friday was one of those nights.

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His finishing has improved throughout the season, no question. But, the performance Tatum had in the paint on Friday can’t happen anymore. Especially when Kemba Walker is out.

The Celtics faced the Hawks, who have one of the worst records in the NBA, so that helped Boston survive without Walker while Tatum went 2-for-16 from the floor (0-for-2 from three). Jaylen Brown also had a big game (24 points on 8-for-13 shooting), as did Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward and Daniel Theis in Boston’s 109-106 win. (For a complete recap of the Celtics' win, click here.)

Now, part of the reason Brown is able to find space — in addition to his own improvements — is Tatum, Walker and Hayward are typically greater priorities for opposing defenses. However, it’s not like Brown is wide open every time he drives the lane. He’s not perfect, but Brown can finish contested and uncontested layups.

Tatum had some tough looks on Friday, but there were a few easy ones he should have made.

Having said all that, Tatum still got to the line a fair amount. And he continues to take advantage of those opportunities, going 9-for-10 from the free-throw line against the Hawks — whereas Brown went 7-for-10.

Getting those attempts at the line is half the battle for Tatum. He’s much better at creating contact than he was earlier in the season. So that was a significant positive from his play on Friday.

“I just think we talk about it all the time, whenever he’s very aggressive, that’s a good thing for us. And I think when you are aggressive, then it’s about making the eight read, playing off two feet, slowing down a little in those congested areas,” Brad Stevens said after the win over Atlanta. “That’s where those guys that are a little bit older in the league, it just seems like they’re playing a slow game with some of those steps in the way that they let the defense tell them what to do. And that’s just something that you get used to over time. But I’m encouraged by the aggressiveness — the assertiveness is good.”

Now Tatum just needs to take advantage of the attempts at the rack where he beats his defender more often.

Tatum is impacting games even when he’s not scoring. Yes, he had nine rebounds on Friday and is averaging seven a game, but, more importantly, the attention he warrants helps create chances for other guys — again, Brown being one of the beneficiaries.

But, if Tatum intends to ascend into superstardom — as much as he’s moving in the right direction, in general, this year — he has to finish more frequently at the rim. Especially when he’s not getting fouled.

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