Jayson Tatum has proven why he should be an All-Star Game lock

Nick Friar
January 12, 2020 - 6:45 am
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There are still a few Eastern Conference forwards comfortably ahead of Jayson Tatum in the 2020 All-Star NBA Game fan vote, but the third-year Celtics wing should easily receive his first invite to the league’s biggest showcase. Especially after what he did on Saturday.

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Tatum registered the first 40-point game of his NBA career (41) on 16-for-22 shooting (6-for-9 from 3-point territory). And Tatum eclipsed the 40-point mark without getting to the free-throw line much (3-for-3) in Boston’s 140-105 win. (For a complete recap of the Celtics' win, click here.)

He scored at all three levels. The mid-range shot was there. Two of Tatum’s three misses from long-range came when he was pressing for the last bucket he needed in order to reach the 40-point mark. Also, Saturday may have been the most consistent Tatum has been at the rim this season.

Tatum’s touch around the basket was the most significant part of his performance. Getting into the paint has looked relatively easy for him all season. But capitalizing on his quality opportunities around the rim hasn’t exactly been Tatum’s strong suit.

That’s not to say a performance like Saturday’s — with regard to his consistent finishing at the rim — came out of nowhere. Tatum’s touch has steadily improved throughout the season. But, there have been nights where he’s shown signs of his old self.

“I just think he’s going to be ever-improving,” Brad Stevens said about Tatum following Saturday’s win. “He had a couple of really good finishes with both hands early in the game. But he also, I thought, had the right mindest: attack. It helps when you start off these 40-point games with a couple of layups, which he got. Couple off (of) his effort, couple off bigs sealing for him, and then he got a couple steals and now the basket feels a little bit bigger and some of those threes go down. But the finishing is going to be really important. And we’ve talked about — we’re talked a lot about how best to do that, but I think he’s had a great year. But I think he can get better.”

Still, before Saturday’s game, Tatum has been in consideration for Eastern Conference Player of the Week and Eastern Conference Player of the Month at points throughout the season. And, again, he’s in the running to start at forward in the 2020 All-Star Game. (He’s fifth among the East’s forwards in the fan vote.)

Then he went out against the Pelicans and dropped 41. Most of them with Brandon Ingram guarding him — who recently expressed he’s ready to challenge anyone from his draft class that’s received an extension to one-on-one, including Jaylen Brown.

“Obviously, it feels good (to reach 40), for sure, but I never get too high or too low when I play well or if I don’t,” Tatum said. “For me, I feel like I got a long way to go. The guys I look up to, they have nights like this more often than not. Obviously, it feels good, but, just try to do it more often, be consistent and just continue to get better. You know, after tonight, you got to forget about it and move on to the next one."

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid will be two of the East’s forwards who earn a starting nod in the All-Star Game. Pascal Siakam is in the lead for the last spot, with Jimmy Butler right behind the Toronto forward. But the league’s head coaches still vote in three reserves at the forward position from each conference.

If it wasn’t clear already, Tatum made sure the point got across on Saturday: he deserves to be among those representing the Eastern Conference in this year’s All-Star Game.

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