Karalis: Jayson Tatum’s super-charged efficiency fueling Celtics’ turnaround

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Every so often I get a little technical on here, and I’m afraid I might be saying things that go over people’s heads. However, sometimes it can’t be helped. I just have to say things and hope people understand. Today is one of those days. 

The Boston Celtics do better when Jayson Tatum is playing well. 

I’ll give you a few minutes to process that.

Tatum was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday. He put up an East-best 31.5 points on 48.8% shooting (38.9% from 3), 8.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assists over the past week, which included the loss to Philadelphia but also Boston’s three-straight wins over New York, Minnesota, and Denver. He has put up at least 25 points and 10 rebounds in each of his last three games, which is the longest such streak by a Celtics player since Paul Pierce in 2003.

What stands out about Tatum’s week is how much he’s attacking the basket, and how well he’s finishing. Tatum has not been particularly great at the rim this season, but he has come on strong lately. 

“It’s not a lack of desire ... to get to the rim,” Brad Stevens said after the win over Minnesota. “Sometimes it’s hard to get to the rim on certain guys and you can find matchups elsewhere that are maybe more advantageous to do so. I think he has grown in his ability to seek great shots, or seek higher-efficiency shots, throughout this season.”

The numbers bear that out, and they culminated in this POTW run. 

Before the All-Star break, Tatum took 21% of his shots inside the restricted area and shot 62% over 31 games, netting him 5.5 points per game at the rim. In the 17 games since the break, Tatum has upped his production and has taken 27.1% of his shots in the restricted area. He’s shooting 73.4% on those shots, and is averaging 8.1 points per game at the rim.  

This is a much more efficient Tatum, who has also increased his 3-point production. He’s taking 40.3% of his shots from beyond the arc since the break, an increase of nearly 7%, but there’s no overall uptick in the volume of shots. There is no added usage or changes in the pace numbers. He’s just taking better shots and it shows when you see his true shooting percentage jumped 6.4%, to 61.1%, since the break.

Before the break, nearly 45% of Tatum’s shots came from somewhere other than the rim or on 3’s. Since the break, about 33.6% of his shots are non-restricted, non-3-point shots. It’s no shock to see his scoring average go up more than two points per game simply by changing his shot profile. 

His last three games supercharge this trend.