Jayson Tatum Gives the Boston Celtics Lineup Flexibility

Jayson Tatum‘s ability to rebound gives the Boston Celtics the option to experiment with smaller lineups, something that could come in handy during the NBA playoffs.

Jayson Tatum is still the youngest Celtic. The 6-foot-8 Duke product, starting his second year, is still one of the thirty youngest players in the league. Tatum’s offensive ability is simply stunning to watch. Having the ball handling ability of a point guard and being the perfect size of a modern-day NBA wing, Tatum plays with a distinct offensive fluidity. His improvements so far give the Celtics the added ability to play smaller lineups down the stretch.

Through the first four games, rebounding stands out as Tatum’s most notable improvement. He is averaging 10.5 rebounds per game through the first four games. Last season, he only averaged 5 rebounds per game and eclipsed 10 rebounds only 7 times.

The most likely reason for this? The Celtics moving to a smaller, more modern starting lineup. With the exception of Saturday night’s game against the Magic, the Celtics going with their three-prong Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward lineup forces more rebounding responsibility on the sophomore forward.

Related Story: WATCH: Jayson Tatum Shows Off His Handles vs. New York Knicks

Many will refer to Tatum as a shooting guard rather than a power forward but featuring Tatum at the power/stretch forward spot might help the Celtics against certain lineups. The Toronto Raptors, specifically like to play a small lineup down the stretch, a lineup which features the guards Kyle Lowry and Fred Van Vleet.

In crunch time, the Celtics also like to play Kyrie Irving with either Terry Rozier or Marcus Smart. Stevens will even like to feature these three guards together.  Last season, this trio, paired with different big men, played over 250 possessions together during the regular season.

In late game situations, Steven’s likes the idea of playing fast players who create opportunities for steals. During this play, Stevens actually has a four-guard lineup. Their speed and peskiness helps lead to the late-game steal.

(Video credit: Marc D’Amico)

The Celtics played the lineup of Rozier, Irving, Smart, Tatum, and Horford for 88 possessions last year. While this is a small sample size, this lineup played well together. They outscored opponents, had a 58.4 percent effective field goal percentage, and limited their opponents to 94.6 points per 100 possessions. With Tatum’s improved rebounding ability, they may be able to get away with playing this lineup more often in late game situations.

It’s known Tatum is a top player on a top team. However, in some areas, like finishing with contact and shot selection he still struggles. Prior to the season, we wrote about three areas Tatum needs to improve to become a bonafide star.

If Tatum continues to improve as he’s shown early this season, Boston will have even more flexibility and versatility for coach Stevens to tinker with.

Next: NBA Power Rankings: Boston Celtics Rank in Top 5 after Week 1

To conclude, here are some interesting stats from Tatum’s season last year. All numbers courtesy of NBA.com/stats and Cleaningtheglass.com and include the entire league and exclude garbage time.

  • Took 225 mid-range shots
  • 8th in three-point percentage
  • Only took 242 three-point shots (third lowest of top ten three point shooters)
  • 72nd percentile in points per shot attempt
  • 97th percentile in the midrange corner shot
  • 90th percentile in drawing shooting fouls
  • 78th percentile in drawing fouls on non-shooting fouls
  • 22nd percentile on finishing with contact (and1) conversions (struggled in this area)
  • 80th percentile in long distance, non-three point shots (outside of 14 feet)
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