BOSTON (CBS) — For years now, ever since the electric Celtics postseason run of 2018, the comparisons of Jayson Tatum to Paul Piece have unavoidable.
That’s a comparison that Pierce himself apparently doesn’t mind at all.
The future Hall of Famer was on hand Saturday night for the nationally televised Rockets-Celtics game. During a pregame interview with Danny Ainge on “The Jump,” host Rachel Nichols asked Ainge if Tatum was going to be “the next Paul Pierce.”
Before Ainge could answer, Pierce jumped in: “He’s going to be better than me!”
Ainge, being the basketball diplomat that he is, merely said that Tatum is “tracking in that direction” without placing too much weight on Tatum’s young shoulders. Nichols then asked Pierce to explain why he believes Tatum will be better.
“He’s tracking in that direction,” Pierce said, echoing Ainge. “I think when you look at a player and you look at their first couple of years, you know who a player is gonna be after their third year. Me and Tracy [McGrady] have talked about this, and I knew when I made the leap from my second to my third year. I went from averaging 19 points a game to 25 a game, and that’s when I felt like I figured it out. And that’s what I’m seeing in him right now.”
(The Pierce/Tatum talk starts around 3:05.)
. @DanielRAinge on Jayson Tatum’s leap (Paul Pierce says Tatum could be better than he was), the dominance of Giannis & the Bucks and that blank championship banner that hangs in the Celtics practice facility: pic.twitter.com/0l3UwpE1hI
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) March 1, 2020
Pierce’s observations obviously carry some weight, but he also left out arguably the most important factor at play: age.
Pierce turned 23 years old just before his third NBA season; Tatum will turn 22 on Tuesday.
Over his first two NBA seasons, Tatum averaged 14.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game at age 19 and 20. In Pierce’s first two NBA seasons, he averaged 18.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game at age 21 and 22.
For year three, as Pierce mentioned, he averaged 25.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. With 23 games left this season, Tatum is averaging 23.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists.
Tatum’s current run has been something to behold. After missing three games in late January, he’s averaged 29.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game in a 13-game stretch where the Celtics have gone 10-3.
“He just is feeling it right now,” Ainge said of Tatum’s run. “And I hope he can continue it. … It’s fun to watch a young player develop like that. But there definitely was a little place in the last six weeks where he’s really stepped his game up.”