The Boston Celtics are blessed to have two rising stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. While both are still only at just the beginning stages of their promising careers, they’ve already established themselves as very good NBA players. But which of these two young guns has the greatest potential?
An often debated topic amongst Boston Celtics fans and media is the great “Jay-bate.”
Jayson or Jaylen. Who have you got?
Many a segment on local sports talk radio broadcasts and sports television shows has posed this very question.
Typically, though, the discussion boils down to the following, often uncontested opinion:
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I really like Brown, and I think he can be a great player in this league, an All-star even, but Tatum could be… a superstar.”
Personally, however, I have always thought Brown has the higher ceiling and has never received his due consideration in the great Jay-bate.
So, now I’m setting out to provide a more balanced breakdown of the Jays, and their potentials. But who knows? Maybe I’ll convince myself that Tatum is indeed the more promising of the two prospects somewhere along the way…
Let’s start with how the Jays are similar.
Both players are in their early twenties, with only a year and a half separating them in age. Brown is 22. Tatum, 21. They’re also almost identical in both size and stature; all that differentiates the two is about an inch and ten pounds, according to both of their player bio info sheets, taken from ESPN.
They were both big-time high school prospects and, as any Boston Celtics fan worth his or her salt can tell you, each was taken with the third overall pick in the NBA draft (Brown in 2016 and Tatum in 2017).
The two wings each flashed mouth-watering potential when the Celtics, due to injury, were forced to lean heavily on them during the team’s magical playoff run all the way to game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2018.
Team USA selected both Jays, first Tatum, then Brown, to join its roster for this summer’s FIBA World Cup action. Each player is a high-character young man, and decidedly dedicated to his craft.
The similarities now dispensed with, let’s get into the differences, the nitty-gritty of this debate. That’s how we’re going to work out which of these two young Celtics players is the winner…
Beginning with where Brown holds the edge over Tatum, he’s clearly the more gifted athlete. Brown’s high-flying, highlight real dunks, have even on more than one occasion victimized a player in league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who boasts the greatest combination of length and athleticism the NBA has seen since the likes of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.
It’s the upper-hand Brown has on Tatum athletically which propels him to being the better defender. Tatum has made tremendous strides in building upon his formerly paper-thin frame, but that doesn’t change the fact that he still looks a step slow when compared with elite NBA wings.
Brown deserves the nod’ when it comes to resilience. This past season, Brown faced down far more than his fair share of adversity.
Due to a disappointingly slow start out of the gate, Brown quickly fell out of favor with coach Brad Stevens and was demoted to the bench unit, having been replaced in the team’s starting lineup by Marcus Smart. However, instead of pouting and allowing this demotion to interfere with his play, Brown thrived in his new role, emerging as perhaps the Celtics’ most reliable scoring option down the stretch run of the season and into the playoffs.
Brown also had to endure the rockiest relationship with star Kyrie Irving of any of “the young players,” as Irving came to refer to them. Then, there were Brown’s noteworthy run-ins with starting power-forward, Marcus Morris, as well as Smart.
Now, Tatum indeed dealt with his share of struggles this past season, but these were largely self-imposed, due to his having adopted a “mamba-mentality” in the offseason. The very thought of all those early-season, step-back jumpers is still enough makes Boston Celtics fans cringe.
Tatum too was able to right his own ship, but never came to excel for any stretch of the season quite like Brown. Brown has also improved his game more than Tatum has, particularly since their time spent in college.
Until Brown reached the pro’s, he had always been a player who relied upon his tremendous combination of size, strength, and athleticism to find success. However, in Brown’s rookie season, despite having shot a retched 29% the year before on the much closer to the hoop college three-pointer, Brown distinguished himself as a respectable deep-threat, shooting 34%. He hasn’t looked back since.
In spite of all Brown’s improvement with his shot, Tatum still holds a decisive advantage here. Tatum’s stellar career three-point shooting percentage of 40% exactly matches that of former Celtic sharp-shooter and soon to be hall-of-famer Ray Allen, who, during his career, converted more three-point attempts than any other player in NBA history. Brown’s career 36.5%, while nothing to scoff at, is ultimately left behind in the dust.
Tatum also excels from the free-throw line, where Brown has had some trouble. For their careers, Tatum has shot an impressive 84% from the charity stripe, while Brown has shot a rather underwhelming 66%.
Tatum’s first two years in the league were also more productive than Brown’s. Tatum has been a starter since day one, and has averaged well over double-digits in points in each of his first two seasons. But Brown was only a marginal contributor during his rookie campaign. It wasn’t until his second year that he would emerge as a key part of Stevens’ rotation.
And for what it’s worth, Tatum is widely considered the more promising of the two players by NBA scouts, pundits, as well as fans across the league. Tatum was recently even featured as an answer in a New York Times crossword puzzle, the clue to arriving at his name having been, “NBA phenom.”
Hmmm… something’s still missing…
Thus far, my breakdown has failed to elucidate, for me anyway, why exactly Tatum receives such a bulk of the fanfare, while Brown is the oft-forgotten man.
Brown is the better athlete and defender, has overcome more adversity, and improved more. Tatum is the better shooter, has been slightly more productive, and ranks higher amongst the opinions of scouts, pundits, and fans.
There’s not too much of a difference there, right?
Perhaps it has something to do with the 2018 playoffs, when both players put the wounded Boston Celtics on their backs, and along with Scary Terry, almost carried the team to the NBA Finals.
On the whole, the Jays’ playoff performances were nearly identical:
Player A: 18.5 points per game, .471 field goal percentage, .324 three-point field goal percentage, 4.4 rebounds per game, 2.7 assists per games, 2.2 turnovers per game.
Player B: 18.0 points per game, .466 field goal percentage, .393 three-point field goal percentage, 4.8 rebounds per game, 1.4 assists per games, 1.3 turnovers per game.
If I hadn’t looked up these sets of statistics myself, there would be no shot in hell I could tell you which player produced which. Examining them closely, I would probably have guessed Brown to be Player A, and Tatum, Player B. That’s because Player B shot the ball much better from beyond the arc and averaged about a turnover less per game. Tatum is the better shooter, and Brown often appears out of control with the ball in his hands.
So Boston Celtics fans might be surprised to learn that Player A was actually Tatum, and Player B was Brown.
Yet it was Tatum who had the highlight of the entire 2018 playoffs, when he viciously dunked over Lebron James in game 7.
The imagery of that moment is hard to ignore. On nearly the biggest of stages, the rising star beats the veteran MVP to the basket, soaring above him to jam it home.
And the thoughts this moment immediately provoked throughout the NBA universe were almost palpable:
Did the play point to an eventual changing of the guard? The soon to be dethronement of the king by the very player who had dunked on him?
Tatum’s overall performance in that game 7 far surpassed Brown’s, as well. Tatum was the Celtics go-to man for the evening, scoring 24 points on 9-17 shooting, to go along with seven rebounds. Brown, on the other hand, delivered a stinker, scoring 13 points as part of a dreadful shooting performance, where he went 5-18 from the field and 3-12 from the three-point line.
These were the final impressions made on the biggest of stages that either of the Boston Celtics young forwards had ever played on.
And these were the final impressions the two made before heading into an offseason where the narrative for last season would ultimately be written.
Tatum was destined to blossom into one of NBA’s generational players. Brown, was relegated to being somewhat of an afterthought.
But in the great Jay-bate, my vote remains with Brown. If he can continue his development as an outside scoring threat and improve upon his mediocre ball-handling skills, there aren’t limits to how good he can be.
Tatum may always be hindered by his good but not great athleticism.
Alright, Boston Celtics fans, let me hear from you in the comments section. Who has your vote in the great Jay-bate? And why?
As always, thank you for reading.