Jayson Tatum’s superstar leap makes Boston Celtics a super team | Bleacher report

Boston Celtics striker Jayson Tatum (0) reacts after scoring in the second half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball playoff series in the first round against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday, April 23, 2022 in New York.  (AP Photo / John Minchillo)

John Minchillo / Associated Press

After an away win of 109-103 on Saturday, Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics are now up 3-0 on preseason title favorite Brooklyn Nets.

Yes, the same Nets that in 2019 added Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency. The same Nets that in 2020 switched to James Harden (who, as you know, was later moved to Ben Simmons).

During what feels like a possible twilight for the NBA’s super team era, Brooklyn may have been the most high-profile example of that kind of team building (though the Los Angeles Lakers might want a word on that front).

And that was good enough to give them the shortest title odds before this season started. But less than a year later, it does not look like it will be good enough to beat Tatum and the Celtics, who play as much as a super team as anyone else.

Of course, it started not only with the playoffs. Boston has been dominant for over half of the season. Since December 31, their plus-12.7 net rating (net points per 100 possessions) has not only led the league, it’s 5.1 points better than the Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns in second place (as wide as the distance between second and 12.).

The only team in NBA history to achieve a net rating of over 12.7 in an entire season? Chicago Bulls 1995-96. Yes, the bulls. Those that went 72-10 and included Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman (all Hall of Famers).

No, these Celtics are probably not top-of-the-powers Bulls or Lightyears-era Golden State Warriors, but at least statistically they play like them. And Tatum rises to the limit top five status (or multi-year All-NBA selection, or MVP candidate, or how you want to classify it), has a lot to do with it.

Jayson Tatum before 2021-22 Catch-All Metrics
Dunks and Threes’ estimated wins 16.3 3
FiveThirtyEights wins over replacement 13.5 2
Basketball References wins over substitute 13.0 6
Dunks and Threes, FiveThirtyEight, Basketball Reference

During the same December 31, Tatum had an average of 27.9 points, 4.9 assists and 3.2 threes with a true shot percentage of 61.6. After going after 39 and six in the most recent outing against Brooklyn, he is up 29.7 points, 8.0 assists and 3.0 threes for the series.

In a matchup that includes KD and Kyrie, there really is no argument that anyone else has been the best player through three matches. And it’s not just because of Tatum’s counting statistics.

One of the driving factors (perhaps that driving factor) behind Boston’s dominance, as Christmas is a defense so connected that it seems cross-border telepathic. And Tatum is a key gear at that end.

He ended the season as league leader in defensive win rates, a state historically owned by centers and traditional power-forwards (each of the 43 best defensive win seasons in NBA history belongs to the big ones).

And after hitting six steals last Saturday, he now has an average of 3.3 shares (steals plus blocks) for the series. He is also a big part of why Durant shoots 36.5 percent from the field (after match 3, KD is now 2-of-15 when defending Tatum).

In the form of some of his superstar predecessors on the wing, Tatum has become a game-changer on both sides of the floor. And as ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy said after Saturday’s broadcast, he’s now in the “best player on a championship team” level.

However, you can not win it all alone (just ask the reigning MVP Nikola Jokic). And like I said before, Boston plays like a superteam.

The 2021-2022 defensive victory shares the leaderboard? Robert Williams III, Al Horford, Defender of the Year Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown are fifth, tied for sixth, tied for eighth and draw for number 15, respectively.

Brown averaged just over 20 points for the third season in a row. Williams is a dynamic rim runner who forces the defense to collapse when he is the screener in pick-and-rolls. Horford is one of the smartest passers-by in his generation. And Smart, finally authorized as a starting point guard, achieved just an average of 5.9 assists in his career.

They are not backed by the deepest bench in the league, but Derrick White is a good ball mover and a great defensive player (similar to number eight in the NBA in defensive estimated plus-minus), who fits schematically at both ends. Grant Williams and Daniel Theis have plenty of experience in the system. And Payton Pritchard has the ability to take over two- or three-minute stretches (as he did last Saturday when he had 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting). In the playoffs, you do not need much more than that from a backup guard.

This is especially true with a starting five and first option as good as Boston.

The idea that you need a top 5-10 player to win a championship has been around for years for a reason. That is generally true. In a sport that only has 10 guys on the floor at a time, a single player can have a huge impact. And Tatum is now the kind of player who can be the best of the 10 in any series from now until the final.

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