The Celtics under Jayson Tatum could be a symbol of the NBA’s biggest challenges

BOSTON – So … can we talk about Jayson Tatum for a minute?

Look, this is a tough topic for fans, and it looks like I’m dropping rain on the parade to bring it, but I think it’s worth discussing because it says a lot about where the NBA is right now.

So let me start this by saying that Tatum is an amazing player, selecting the first All-NBA team to finish sixth in the MVP vote. He is on his way to Springfield regardless of how the list goes. As an archetype player, he is one of the rare, coveted, big, ball-carrying winners that every competitor should have on his or her list.

And yet … Boston’s run to the NBA Finals has never been a success from the team’s best player. His 26th attempt, nine assists in Wednesday’s 3rd Game win over Golden State was good and all – 9 – 23-yard shot – but did not make one-third of his shot in the series (20-of-59) and blocking. postseason history of converts.

Overall, his PER 18.6 playoff is at 21, not only behind the likes of Luka Doncić and Giannis Antetokounmpo, but also behind Jalen Brunson, Jordan Clarkson and Kevon Looney. One can strongly challenge Tatum not being the best player in any of the four Boston tournaments. On the contrary, he has never been a better player on his team in these finals. (Jaylen Brown would look like a winner in the NBA Finals MVP if you voted today.)

I say this so as not to lose Tatum. Being the best player on any team at this level is the highest. Instead, my point is that this Tatum postseason has never existed that bossand the Celtics are two winners from any competition.

And this, is a violent departure from the state of affairs in recent postseasons. The list of NBA players without the top three players in the league, or the alpha dog on the bench so that they temporarily climb to the same level (say, Dirk Nowitzki in 2011 or Dwyane Wade in 2006), is surprisingly short. compendium, especially recently.

It’s one event in ten years, like that. From LeBron to Durant to Curry to Kawhi to Giannis, to Shaq and Kobe and Duncan in front of them, to Hakeem and Jordan in the ’90s and Bird and Magic in the 80s, alpha dogs and postseason owners . Teams that build around players with at least one team below that are surprisingly close – think of the 2000 Blazers, 2002 Kings, 2020 Heat and several Suns teams – but they often pass.

We have often had exceptions to the rule of thumb: 2004 Pistons, 2014 Spurs and 1989 and 1990 Pistons. Four groups in forty years, in particular.

Instead, go back in history throughout the 1980s and beyond and ask yourself this question: How many of those teams can Tatum be the best player in? The four groups above, and … maybe that’s the same, aren’t they?

But there is a big point here, about the Celtics and the league. Not since 2014 Spurs we saw the team go into the tournament without having a superduperstar in full swing. (Tim Duncan was a full-time player, but by 2014, he was 38 years old and scored 15 points per game. Kawhi Leonard was at another level, only 22 years old and scoring 12 every night.)

Although the Spurs won little by little due to a life-threatening break-up: realizing that a complete move to win back-to-back in January was a no-brainer, and he could have new players by June as well. they choose rested players. They ran around in the exhausting heat of spring, and the rest of the league quickly took them.

These Celtics, on the other hand, are winning because of the depth of talent in their ranks, a deep eight-team team of excellent players that offers an enemy with few weak links to attack.

He may not have Giannis or LeBron, but he has two All-Star-caliber wings, seven All-Defense-caliber defenders in the top eight and can play big or small depending on the opponent. The series is powerful enough to survive the injuries of Robert Williams and Marcus Smart; flexible enough self-defense with strong stone schemes Kevin Durant, Giannis and Steph Curry; with enough force to attack the weak defenders anywhere on the ground.

This could be a sign of more league change than anything else in the Celtics team. For example, a year ago, Phoenix almost did the same, completing two major titles and establishing itself. The Suns followed this up with 64 league-winning titles this season. Devin Booker is good, but he is in the same class as Tatum – the top 10 guy, but not in the highest competition. However Phoenix was very successful in giving opponents a few weaknesses to investigate.

Also, I look forward to the Celtics being at the top of the list, the same idea applies almost exactly if Golden State wins. Yes, it could be another Curry crown, but this could be the 34-year-old coming next year with its standards. Sans Durant and no longer in the middle of his ten-year career, Curry is very close to Tatum’s share of the league – the second All-NBA team, eighth in the MVP voting. But it is surrounded by a flexible, deep, flexible support system.

Coming to the big picture, we got used to the NBA being a star-led league. But overall, the winners did not last long this spring. In the current league league Mount Rushmore (Giannis, Durant, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Doncić and no doubt LeBron James), and Doncić were the only players to play in the final.

And I think there is something to be said and important about this. In the switch-heavy, supermax-paying, 3-points spacing NBA of 2022, the team’s success for the postseason is largely driven by the strength of its weakest link and less by the size of the best player.

Let’s not exaggerate: Stars are important and always send letters at a certain level. They usually translate words that anyone can play with. You’re not a big “flexible” if you can’t swap with Curry or Doncić on the player list. You are not a player if you cannot play against Marcus Smarts and Draymond Greens on the other hand. You’re not a shooter if you can’t shoot with Robert Williams or Jaren Jackson Jr. flying in your face.

But the NBA is changing. Increased security, flexibility and great tricks have made the game “weaker” than ever before in its history. The change is based on the idea that the worst defender of the team can still hold on to itself beyond the means of recovery and recovery … Enter the Celtics, who are so strong from top to bottom that the Heat is often directed at Derrick White at the end of the conference. Derrick White!

Of course, the Celtics are not making much of a difference against Golden State, but they are still relying on their big ones to have the best shot all the time or above the 3-point line. Also, one has no choice but to notice a larger line moving in this postseason. The Celtics rejoiced at the backbone of the Nets’ line-up, having the most injury injuries than the Bucks on a roster in which both teams lost key players and took on Miami’s weak links on both sides.

They were not alone. Miami selected Philly’s team consisting of Embiid and James Harden, the Durant-less Warriors finishing last due to a deep, varied follow-up, and Golden State West’s toughest test came from Memphis’ most dumb team that was second in the league. – The best history ever.

Obviously, you could say that all of this is just a challenge in the great history of basketball. Perhaps this “practice” that I am against would be if Khris Middleton were healthy and Kawhi Leonard did not need knee surgery. We can only sit in a window between the big teams, which allows the 51st team to play and the 53rd team in the finals. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here.

If so, it does mean a lot: how teams make a record of their pay, the skills and responsibilities that teams choose to sign and pay for and how the league sells itself and its major games. (Maybe selling everything as a one-on-one fight between superstars is not the way to go?)

On the big picture, that is, Tatum’s incredible finale as the best player who could be the final hero could be a lot of fun coming out this postseason. It may sound strange, but it sounds like the beginning of an event.

Related reading

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Amick: Breaking the banner night in Boston
Vardon: The two Celtics remove one of the Warriors’ routes to the head

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(Photo by Jayson Tatum: Kyle Terada / USA Today)


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