It is no secret that the Celtics second unit has struggled to score at times when they do not have the help of Kyrie Irving or Al Horford initiating the offense. This occasional lack of output is most likely attributed to Gordon Hayward being hurt, because with Hayward, Brad Stevens would be able to stagger the three stars the Celtics have while still being able to regulate their minutes. But since Hayward won’t be coming back (at least I don’t think) any time soon, I am going to look at a way the Celtics can improve the scoring from the second unit with the players that are currently available.
Jayson Tatum, while not frequently used in the post, has been very effective in the 23 post ups he has had. Among players with 23 or more post ups, Tatum was near or at the top in a few categories such as: 3rd in points per possession, FT frequency, getting fouled 30.4% percent of the time, a 0.0% turnover frequency, meaning that he has yet to turn the ball over out of the post! Although it’s a small sample size, these numbers are very promising and impressive.
Tatum’s college numbers were even better. While this is also a small sample size, he led the NCAA among high major players with at least 30 attempts in PPP on post ups(1.303 PPP). For context, Draymond Green has 11 more post ups than Tatum and his turnover frequency is at 29.4%, which is about 10 turnovers in 34 tries. A markedly better player in the same scenario is apparently making poorer decisions with the basketball than Tatum is according to the stats. While Tatum is not near the top of the FG% category, shooting 50% out of post-ups still impressive because of how high the level of difficulty on some of these shots are.
He unleashed a few beauties in summer league, and even though it was just summer league, he made them look so easy that I was sure we would see Tatum posting up when a smaller guard was switched on to him. For example, this fadeaway over a rotation player on the Spurs actual team, Bryn Forbes.
Or perhaps this gorgeous spin fade over Kyle Kuzma, again a player who isn’t just a summer league scrub:
So, between the 50% shooting, and the free throw frequency, Tatum has a staggering 65.2% scoring frequency even with the number of fadeaways he is shooting. 2 out of every 3 times he is posting up he either gets a bucket or gets to the charity stripe. When the Celtics need points, they should attempt to go for such an efficient way to get points.
Now we must apply this to a real game scenario. Let me take you to the Pistons game on December 10th. This one sticks out because Tatum was being guarded by Ish Smith in the post and he was not getting touches. In the second quarter the Celtics were having a rough go of it on the offensive end. From the 9:54 mark until the end of the quarter, the Celtics managed only 7 points. The game did not get out of hand because the Pistons only scored 16 points in the quarter and the Celtics defense saved them once again. Often times, through a switch on a DHO or PnR with Shane Larkin, the 5’9” Ish Smith ended up on Tatum, and Tatum was posting him up but not getting the ball. As opposed to the shots they were taking, like a Shane Larkin pull up jumper, a Marcus Smart turnaround, or a fancy Rozier layup (even though I love them), maybe run the offense through Tatum, get him in a switch, and feed him in the mid or low post.. I understand this is not in the direction of the modern NBA play style but it beats watching an average to below average shooting lineup taking too many three pointers.
The Celtics have collected many players that fit the modern mold physically for today’s game, but not everyone has to try and beat the Warriors at their own game when it comes to play style. Sometimes it’s just best to let players do what they’re best at. For Jayson Tatum, that means getting buckets in a multitude of ways, including in the post.
Written by: Lucas Gaynor