Boston Celtics: 1 attribute that stops Jayson Tatum from becoming truly elite

Jayson Tatum was an All-NBA First Teamer for the Boston Celtics during the 2022-23 season, but this one attribute keeps him from being truly elite (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum was an All-NBA First Teamer for the Boston Celtics during the 2022-23 season, but this one attribute keeps him from being truly elite (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images) /

Don’t get me wrong. Jayson Tatum is an exceptional talent and a really good scoring forward for the Boston Celtics. But he’s still missing one small piece: a mid-range jump shot. All great scoring forwards had that.

Kevin Durant, since the 2013-14 season, has averaged 1.02 points from mid-range. Last season he trailed just DeMar Derozan, with 3.9 field goals made. Kawhi Leonard in his career has five times averaged more than 40% shots from mid-range.

But I want to comeback to KD for a second. Mid-range has unlocked his game, because he doesn’t have to rely on his athleticism as much. He’s good enough ball handler, that he can crossover once and get to his sweet spot or take one or two hard dribbles and pull up from 16 feet. He also has turnaround J, but that’s really hard to perfect it.

You may be asking yourself why Jayson Tatum needs a mid-range game — especially since he’s averaging 30.9 points this season?

Well, for a couple of reasons.

It’s all about 3-pointers and layups right now, which, analytically, is what you want. Against Cleveland he was 8/21 and against Chicago he was 8/23. The Boston Celtics’ playing style is based on drive and kick principles. The goal is to make defense scramble and create driving lanes. When you have athletes like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, you can do that pretty effectively.

But there lies a problem.

When most of the times, you drive all the way to the basket, defense can pack and put one or two players in front of you. If you start your drive above 3-point line,  usually you can’t get to the basket with one or two dribbles. In the game against Chicago, Nikola Vucevic was dropping by opening mid-range and other guys were packing in the paint. That’s way Jayson Tatum didn’t have good shooting game. He was shooting against two or sometimes three people basically. So far this season he is hesitant to take those pull up mid-range shots. Only 10.2% of his shots came from the mid-range area.

Since for the most part he was driving from 3-point line, the defense had time to prepare. On the one hand, you want him to get full steam by going down hill. On the other hand, it lets defense to pack. Because he’s such an exceptional athlete, it doesn’t really matter if defense packs. He’s drawing fouls anyway. That’s why against the Bulls he took 20 free throws.

In the last few minutes of a game, when the score was close, they put him on the top of the key and asked him to make decisions. Of course, you want your best player to get the ball in his sweet spot down the line. And he has been efficient from that area, by making 48.9% of his shots from there. But he took only 45 shots from that spot so far this season.

In this instance, they gave him the ball, where he could attack both ways and score or create. But he’s not comfortable in the mid-range.  The Boston Celtics always has one guy that you can gamble on. Whether it is Marcus Smart or Malcolm Brogdon, you can live with them taking 3-pointers or making decisions in the crunch time. In theory you are going against two guys. It’s really hard to get to the basket in that situation. And that’s why he needs mid-range, if the Cs will go anywhere this season.

Boston Celtics F Jayson Tatum must integrate this in his repertoire

When he attacks the basket, then Jayson Tatum could stop and pull. The defense won’t be able to help as much. It would open driving lanes even more, because big guys won’t be able to drop. They would have to stay honest, and with his athleticism he would get even more layups. In the crunch time, he would be able to create easier shots. Tatum could bump a defender with his shoulder or take one dribble and shoot.

What’s funny, he had best view in the arena against the Bulls and saw DeMar DeRozan putting a clinic from mid-range. Jayson Tatum should study his tape on this. And ultimately, he would need to add mid-range to his repertoire, if he would want to be complete scorer, because all great scoring forwards had that. It’s really hard to go deep in the playoffs without a mid-range game, and while the Cs made the Finals last June, they didn’t get the job done.