Jayson Tatum’s first trip to the NBA Finals has been underwhelming to this point. We’ve yet to see the superstar level of play that he’s displayed countless times throughout this season on his way to First Team All-NBA and an Eastern Conference Finals MVP.
It starts with shot selection. Tatum’s numbers from inside the three-point arc are staggering, and head coach Ime Udoka seems to have a pretty good idea as to why:
“Yeah, what I would say is don’t be opposed to taking twos,” Udoka said, via NESN. “Some pull-up jumpers, some of those things, instead of going all the way to the rim. It doesn’t have to be either/or as far as that. We talked about the balance, how much we rely on him to score and get other guys involved. Sometimes that balance leads to taking some shots or over-penetrating when he has a clean pull-up or two. Nothing wrong with the floater, mid-range pull-up to get yourself going, especially when the crowd is sitting there at the rim.”
Tatum dribbling into crowds is the reason he’s shooting 27.4% from two-point range through the first four games of the Finals. The only thing helping him from having a truly awful series up to this point is his three-point percentage (45%) and his assist numbers (7.8 per game). If he can get the ball at the top of the key and dribble into that Paul Pierce-esque elbow jumper instead of trying to get all the way to the rack, he’ll unlock a lot of scoring opportunities that he’s currently missing out on.
On Sunday, the 24 year-old three-time NBA All-Star reiterated his coaches sentiments:
“I think one thing I noticed is playing on two feet a lot more,” Tatum said. “You know, like Coach said, playing off one foot and trying to look for fouls isn’t — has not been working in my favor as much. So I think playing off two feet, attacking angles, instead of trying to initiate the contact and things like that.”
In the regular season, JT shot 45% from the field and 35% from three. So far in the Finals, those numbers are flipped. On the other side, Steph Curry is averaging 34 points per game on 50% and 49% from three. You’re typically only as good as your best player, so the Celtics are extremely fortunate to even be tied 2-2 when considering Tatum’s struggles. We’ll see if he can make the necessary adjustments in Game 5.