By: Cullen McIntyre, Sports Editor
Jayson Tatum earned Eastern Conference Player of the Month for February averaging 30.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. The 22-year-old forward for the Boston Celtics is one of five Celtics in franchise history to manage 30+ points-per-game in a month, joining Larry Bird, Paul Pierce, Isaiah Thomas and John Havlicek.
The St. Louis native has surged into a star in the National Basketball Association (NBA) in his third year in the league. His numbers have continuously improved each year, and with his field goals attempted (FGA) per game jumping from 13.1 in his sophomore season to 18.8 in his current season, Tatum has become a leading producer for the Celtics.
As he continues to attempt more shots per game, hit shooting percentage has stayed the same over the past two seasons shooting 45%. His 3PT% has declined from his 43% his rookie season to 40% this season, but the numbers are still impressive as he’s putting up 7.1 three-pointers per game this year compared to 3.1.
Coming into this season the Celtics lost offensive dominance in point guard Kyrie Irving, who put up 18-plus FGA in his two seasons with the Celtics. General Manager Danny Ainge replaced Irving with point guard Kemba Walker, who averaged 25.6 points attempting 20.5 shots-per-game over 82 games last season. The assumption for everyone was that Walkers offensive ability would see him carrying the workload for the Celtics, but with the emergence of stardom from Tatum this season, that hasn’t happened.
Tatum’s 18.8 FGA leads the team with Walker in second at 16.8. The 22-year-old has dominated on the court, proving he can hit the shot from any spot on the floor. Whether he’s driving inside for a layup, pulling up for a mid-range jumper, or stepping back to shoot a three, Tatum has great percentages all over the court.
His February Eastern Conference Player of the Month dethrones Milwaukee Bucks’ and reigning-MVP Giannis Antetokoumpo of his three consecutive awards from November, December and January. His month of dominance came after the tragic passing of his childhood idol, Kobe Bryant.
Tatum modeled his game after Bryant, and was privileged to work with him in the off-season before his second year in the NBA. The loss of Bryant impacted Tatum heavily, as the young All-Star sported a purple armband with the numbers eight and 24 along with his teammates in honor of Bryant in their game against the Lakers last month.
The Lakers game was one of three losses for the Celtics in February, where Tatum led the team to an impressive 9-3 record. Two of the losses came without Walker in the lineup as he dealt with knee soreness following the All-Star break. But even with Walker in the lineup, Tatum was the first option to score the ball.
Head Coach Brad Stevens has utilized Walker’s playmaking ability to get the most out of Tatum and the rest of the Celtics. Tatum’s offensive numbers have skyrocketed with Walker in the team, scoring a career-high 1323 points through only 56 games played.
The Boston Celtics are currently third in the Eastern Conference with a 42-19 record, 10.5 games behind the first place Milwaukee Bucks and 1.5 games back from the second place Toronto Raptors. Tatum will need to stay in form as the Celtics look to push for the second spot in the east with 21 games remaining in the regular season.
Should the Celtics take the second seed in the East, they will call upon Tatum for his clutch shooting in the fourth quarter of the game. He has shown he can battle against the best this season, putting up 41 points against LeBron James and the Lakers, as well as hitting a highlight stepback three that put two-time All-Defensive First Teamer Paul George on the floor against the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this season.
Tatum has and will continue to be the main output for Brad Stevens’ Celtics as they wrap up the regular season over the next month. The success of the Celtics in the postseason will rely on the offensive output of Tatum to continue, as well as his defensive ability.
The former Duke star has shown that over the month of February he can display greatness, and should he continue to produce the numbers he has, there will be a reason he’s earned the nickname “The Problem”.