By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It didn’t take long for rising Celtics star Jayson Tatum to go from an incredible rookie to an “overhyped” second-year player.
At least that’s the case according to Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes, who lists Tatum as one of his five “most overhyped” players heading into the new season. Tatum actually headlines the list, followed by Golden State’s DeMarcus Cousins, Chicago’s Zach LaVine, Phoenix’s Josh Jackson (drafted one pick after Tatum last year) and Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard.
Do Celtics fans tend to overreact and fall in love with their players? Sure. Do they possibly overhype them after a great performance or 12? Absolutely. Are some already putting Tatum’s No. 0 up in the TD Garden rafters after less than 100 games in a Boston uniform? Perhaps (meaning, yes. Lots of them).
But if Tatum’s rookie season showed us anything about the kid, it’s that he’s going to be good for a long time. Really good, for a really long time. If that means he’s a little overhyped heading into the new season, so be it.
The hype machine is nothing new for Tatum. It’s been churning since the Celtics drafted him third-overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, and he backed it up with one of the best rookie seasons in Celtics history. He averaged 13.9 points while hitting 48 percent of his shots from the floor for the C’s, and as you may have heard a few thousand times, he did it mostly as a teenager (he didn’t turn 20 until March 3). Tatum took on a much bigger role than anyone expected when Gordon Hayward went down just five minutes into the season, and he looked comfortable on the offensive end from the jump. What really pushed the hype train to warp speed was the show Tatum put on in the postseason, elevating his game even more as Boston dealt with life without Kyrie Irving.
If there’s a ton of hype for Tatum heading into his second year as an NBA player, it’s certainly warranted. He averaged 18.5 points over Boston’s 19 playoff games, scoring 20 or more in 10 of them (including seven straight). When the Celtics played Philadelphia’s collection of young promising stars (none of whom made Hughes’ list), Tatum dropped 26.6 points per game as Boston beat the 76ers in five to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. And while the C’s ultimately blew Game 7 against the Cavaliers, a lasting ray of hope from that disappointing series loss was Tatum’s emphatic dunk on LeBron James late in Game 7, two of his 24 points that evening.
It’s pretty easy to see why Celtics fans, and those who cover the team and NBA, are so high on the kid. He’s made it clear that he wants to be one of the best to ever play the game, and while he has a long, long, long (long, long, long, long) way to go, the foundation is set. Now it’s up to him to keep building, and it seems like he’s up to that challenge.
But Hughes doesn’t think Tatum will replicate much of what made his rookie season so special. He’s skeptical that the Boston wing will be able to match the 52 percent he shot on his corner threes (which is pretty realistic, because that is quite the absurd number for anyone), and thinks his numbers will take a big dip when Irving and Hayward rejoin the mix. That’s a certainly reasonable concern, as the return of two All-Stars will indeed affect Tatum’s usage next season. Brad Stevens has his work cut out for him figuring out how to disperse all those minutes — and more importantly, shots — while keeping his collection of stars happy.
Even if Tatum’s numbers drop a bit he’s still going to put up numbers. While the return of Irving and Hayward will mean a dip in looks for Tatum, their return will also mean better looks for him. He was a threat when opposing defenses could center their defensive gameplans around him, so imagine the room he’ll have to operate when the attention shifts to Irving or Hayward. He should get even more wide open threes, which he hit 46 percent of as a rookie, so maybe those wild numbers won’t tumble too much.
With Boston’s stacked roster, just about everyone’s personal numbers will likely decrease if they want to succeed as a whole. No one in Boston will care if Tatum’s scoring total dips a tad if the Celtics go out and win 60+ games during the regular season and compete for another banner next summer.