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The Mass Media

Jayson Tatum is playing like an MVP so far

Jayson+Tatum+of+the+Boston+Celtics+in+2022.
Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics in 2022. Photo courtesy of All Pro Reels via Wikimedia Commons.

The game of basketball is driven by individual talent, perhaps more so than any other sport. The difference between winning and losing a game, series or championship often comes down to one team’s transcendent superstar outperforming the other. One of the biggest reasons you don’t see as many upsets in basketball, compared to hockey or baseball, is because the individual superstar—when they perform up to a certain level—is almost impossible to stop.
For people who follow the Boston Celtics, there is no doubt who that superstar is: Jayson Christopher Tatum Jr. The 24-year-old from St. Louis, Mo., has become one of the NBA’s preeminent attractions since he was selected by the Celtics right out of Duke University in the 2017 Draft. (1)
Tatum, who is already a multi-time all-star, has racked up an array of accolades. These include All-Rookie First Team in 2018, All-NBA Third team in 2020, All-NBA First Team in 2022 and most recently, Tatum was the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals Most Valuable Player award in 2022 (2). In winning the award, Tatum helped the Celtics reach the NBA Finals, which was their first appearance since 2010 (3).
However, the Celtics would fall short in six games against the Golden State Warriors, (4) and Tatum did not have his best series. He shot just 36.7 percent from the field (5) and only scored 14 points in the series-deciding Game Six at TD Garden (6). Tatum, who blamed fatigue for his struggles in the Finals, changed how he trained and said hello to a new diet that helped increase his energy levels to better take care of his body during the NBA season (7).
Whatever Tatum changed in his approach to his physical health, it seems to have worked so far this year. Through 18 games of the NBA season, Tatum is averaging a stellar 30.6 points per game, shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from three-point range (8). His player efficiency rating, an advanced basketball metric created to measure a player’s total output on the court, sits at 27.1, a level that usually gets a player MVP consideration (9).
On the topic of being an MVP, only four Celtics players—Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, Dave Cowens and Larry Bird—have won the award (10), and no one has done so since Bird in the 1985-86 season. According to Basketball-Reference.com’s MVP tracker, which uses an algorithmic formula to guess who might win the award, Tatum currently sits fourth, behind Dallas Mavericks’ star Luka Doncic, Milwaukee Bucks’ stud Giannis Antetokounmpo and Denver Nuggets’ superstar Nikola Jokic. (11)
Tatum may not always put up the gaudy box score statistics of the aforementioned players, but he consistently impacts his team’s success on both ends of the floor. After a comeback 126–122 win at home over Oklahoma City on November 14, the Celtics had won seven in a row and possessed the league’s best record. Tatum recorded 27 points and 10 rebounds, along with three steals and three blocks (12).
When he went to the free-throw line late in the fourth quarter, the TD Garden’s faithful audience rained “MVP, MVP!” chants down in Tatum’s honor. When asked about them post-game, Tatum said, “I mean it’s always been a dream of mine,[…]It’s like an honor to even be mentioned or thought of, you know, the idea of me winning MVP.” (13)
One oddsmaker currently has Tatum as the betting favorite to win the award (14). However, Tatum and the Celtics have their eyes set on hoisting a different trophy at the end of the season. As Tatum put it, “That was not like a goal of mine coming into the season, you know?[…]I wanted to play at an MVP level, meaning that playing great basketball, being efficient and being on one of the best teams….my goal, and I’ve said it all summer and preseason, was to get back to the Finals and not have that feeling again.” (13)
The Celtics have some work cut out if they want to reach the finals like they did last season, but with the leap that Tatum has made in his consistency since their loss to the Warriors, raising banner 18 may not be too far-fetched after all. Besides, the Celtics have proven that they are capable of beating any team in the eastern conference, and if they keep their play up, Tatum’s bid may come out on top. Who knows, maybe the duck boats will make an appearance come June.

  1. https://www.basketball-reference.com/draft/NBA_2017.html
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jayson_Tatum
  3. https://www.blazersedge.com/2022/5/29/23147063/boston-celtics-nba-finals-golden-state-warriors
  4. https://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/2022-nba-finals-celtics-vs-warriors.html
  5. https://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/2022-nba-finals-celtics-vs-warriors.html#all_BOS
  6. https://www.basketball-reference.com/boxscores/202206160BOS.html
  7. https://celticswire.usatoday.com/2022/09/27/nba-boston-celtics-just-eat-it/
  8. https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/t/tatumja01.html
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Player_efficiency_rating#:~:text=The%20player%20efficiency%20rating%20
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Celtics
  11. https://www.basketball-reference.com/friv/mvp.html
  12. https://www.espn.com/nba/recap/_/gameId/401468356
  13. https://www.celticsblog.com/2022/11/16/23459785/jayson-tatum-on-mvp-chatter-its-always-been-a-dream-of-mine
  14. https://twitter.com/betonline_ag/status/1592576784494915584?t=YExYMG8WxdOvE7F0fZl5Vw&s=19
About the Contributor
Jack Sherman, Sports Writer