Celtics

Jayson Tatum is captaining the Celtics offense to new heights

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

If the health of Kemba Walker’s knee was the top storyline for the Celtics heading into the Orlando bubble, the play of Jayson Tatum was a close second.

On the heels of an All-NBA team level breakout in February, one question swirled around the third-year forward: Could he sustain the level of production that signaled he could become a No. 1 option on a contender far sooner than previously envisioned?

The early returns were not pretty in the bubble after a four-month hiatus. Tatum struggled in parts of all three scrimmage games with his shot and he followed that up with the ugliest offensive night of his career against the Bucks, going 1-of-17 from the field while getting to the free-throw line two times.

Milwaukee is an elite defensive team with their length but Tatum looked to be falling into old bad habits in regards to shot selection and ineffective finishing at the rim in the opener. It was just one game but was a stark reminder that consistency from the forward could still be a question mark for the 22-year-old.

The Celtics have responded quite nicely since that flub, going 5-1 over their last six games and the man who has been at the center of it all has been none other than Tatum. His team-high 29 points on 10-of-13 shooting produced his best performance of the restart in Tuesday’s dominant 122-107 win over the Grizzlies.

Memphis was desperate for a win as they chased the final playoff spot in the Western Conference while the Celtics had nothing to play for other than readying themselves for the postseason. Brad Stevens wanted to see a better effort from everyone one last time after a lackluster team effort against the Magic and that’s what he got, keyed by Tatum.

“I thought we did a lot of good things tonight,” Brad Stevens said. “I felt like guys really tried to play the right way on both ends of the floor tonight. And hopefully, we can just keep getting better. The way the ball’s moving has been good, the way that guys are covering for one another but we know we have less than a week or maybe a week before we open a playoff series. Better be getting good.”

While there have bright spots across Boston’s lineup in the midst of their four-game winning streak, no one has been as consistently impressive over the run as Tatum. A look at his numbers over the six games since the Bucks debacle showcase exactly what the C’s need in a No. 1 scorer with incredible efficiency to boot.

25.3 ppg,
53.7% FG
48.9% 3pt (7.5 attempts/G)
87.5% FT (5.3 attempts/G)
5.8 RPG
3.8 APG

Tatum's high output is coming despite opposing teams having months to prepare for the new and improved version of him that we saw after the All-Star Break. He’s getting the tougher defenders and more bodies thrown at him with traps on a nightly basis now and has handled it all quite well since the opener. One way he's doing so is by getting to his spots quicker and getting up shots before extra help can arrive.

Tatum's work in the pick-and-roll as a ball handler is also improving. He's using his vision well to find the openings