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Less is More


By taking less touches on the ball, Jayson Tatum is playing himself into contention for Rookie of the Year

Just about every NBA player was once the focal point of his team in his youth, but this is often a bane rather than a boon once they reach the big leagues. As Scottie Pippen once said, “Sometimes a player’s greatest challenge is coming to grips with his role on the team.” The resultant adjustment is often difficult for rookies as they cope with decreasing playing time, touches and shots.

For the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum, however, there has been no such struggle. It was anticipated that the lanky forward would continue with his trend of hitting midrange shots in the NBA, with his ordinary three-point shooting in college. Fast forward one year and the 19-year-old finds himself among the league leaders in three-point percentage, despite the arc being at least a foot further from the basket relative to the college court dimensions. 

What he has done in his rookie season stems directly from changes he has made to his game. With Kyrie Irving handling most ball-handling and isolation duties in the backcourt for the Boston Celtics and Al Horford taking the shots off pick-and-rolls or pick-and-pops, Tatum merely has to spread the floor for his teammates and hit spot-up shots or attack late closeouts. By finishing plays instead of starting them, the rookie has managed to shoot almost 50% from beyond the three-point line.

Beyond his marksmanship, Tatum has also earned himself minutes with his defensive versatility. Playing on a roster with defensive specialists such as Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, the 6-foot-8 Tatum has learned much and is able to guard multiple positions with his combination of food speed and length. As the young Celtic stakes his claim as one of the top rookies among this season’s outstanding crop, his success is a firm reminder of the value and positive results that come with understanding your role within a team.

Article written by Wong Chin Yi. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the NBA.