Celtics

Jayson Tatum’s playmaking shows growth in win over Knicks

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

There has been a lot to like about Jayson Tatum’s third NBA season. Improved shot selection has been front and center and was on display on Sunday afternoon as nearly half of his attempts (11-of-23) came from 3-point range in the midst of a game-high 30 points. He is also posting a career-high 7.1 rebounds per game and 4.2 free throw attempts per game as he strives to carry a heavier load on both ends of the floor.

One thing that had remained relatively stagnant to date in year three, however, was Tatum’s passing, at least prior to Sunday afternoon. His 2.6 assists per 36 minutes before the win over the Knicks was essentially the same as last season despite a far heavier usage load this year. Tatum was getting plenty of looks this year, but he wasn’t using those chances to set up his teammates much more than usual. He suffered from tunnel vision on some nights, failing to find the open man or make the extra pass when necessary. There’s a fine line between aggressiveness and the right play, and Tatum finds himself on the wrong side of that fence here and there. To become an All-Star and an elite playmaker, this is clearly an area for improvement.

Opportunity to become a better playmaker is sometimes left in the hands of the head coach. However, with the Knicks set on blitzing Kemba Walker in the pick-and-roll with two defenders early and often on Sunday, a lot of chances went Tatum’s way. He got similar treatment from the Knicks off picks and his drives and made sure to punish New York’s defense for their overaggressiveness. The net result? A career-high seven assists on top of Tatum’s 30 points, which is exactly the type of balance that the C’s would love to see more of from their emerging star.

“For me to not have a great shooting night and we still get a win?” Kemba Walker asked reporters after the victory. “That hasn’t happened much over the course of my career, so I’m excited about it.”

Let’s take a closer look at Tatum’s playmaking to see a few of the encouraging reads he made on Sunday night.

READING THE DOUBLE TEAM

The Knicks were playing aggressive defense against the C’s top scorers at the Garden, blitzing with two guys off of screens and switching nearly all game long.

Stevens was ready for the blitzing in the first half and you could tell by the way he prepared Tatum. Not only did Walker (10 assists) make the right play time and time again, but Tatum’s quick decision making also produced several key buckets for Boston on the same sequence.

Tatum runs a pick-and-roll on the wing here and immediately drags two defenders with him. Instead of forcing it, he swings the ball back to the weak side right away as a guard waits for an open jumper or a drive. Brad Wanamaker nails the 3 on this sequence but the C’s also get two other easy buckets on the same playcall.

PASSING OUT OF TROUBLE