Analysts remain hopeful on Jayson Tatum following NBA Finals loss


Celtics

“He’s the cake that I want. All I need is the icing to put on it.”

Jayson Tatum and the Celtics were left disappointed following their NBA Finals loss to the Warriors. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

There’s no way around it, Jayson Tatum had a bad performance in the 2022 NBA Finals.

The Celtics’ young star scored 21.5 points per game on 36.2 percent shooting from the field. More specifically, Tatum made just 31.6 percent of his 2-point field goals, which is the lowest for a player who had at least 75 2-point field goal attempts in the last 60 NBA Finals, and he committed 15 turnovers over the last three games.

Even though Tatum had a massive disappointment on the biggest stage of his professional career, several NBA media members still believe Tatum has a bright future ahead of him.

Celtics radio commentator Cedric Maxwell recalled Larry Bird’s scoring struggles in the 1981 NBA Finals, which actually opened the door for Maxwell to win Finals MVP. However, Maxwell shared what was different between Bird in that series, which the Celtics won, and the 24-year-old Tatum against the Warriors.

“I don’t think he was exposed. I think he just shot poorly,” Maxwell said on NBC Sports Boston. “With Jayson Tatum, he’s a tremendous asset – first-team All-NBA, all the records you talk about. I’ll say it again, when Larry Bird played in his first [NBA Finals], the difference in the greatness of Larry and where he has to get, when I talk about Tatum, is Larry Bird averaged 15 points, but he also averaged 15 rebounds, seven assists, and had 14 steals in the series. That’s the difference and that’s where he has to go.

“He’s the cake that I want. All I need is the icing to put on it. Tatum with that 25 points per game, you have to love that. But again, when you have a failure it gives you an opportunity to grow. I don’t care who you are, we’re all gonna fail. But what does he do next year to become better? Stronger, bigger, quicker, and he understands he has to be more explosive going toward the rim. That’s the icing and all the things he has to do better. I don’t sell him out right now as a young player who’s learning.”

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said that Tatum, who scored 27.6 points per game in the playoffs prior to the Finals, was the reason why the Celtics had the opportunity to win a championship in the first place.

“There ain’t no way we should be burying this kid just yet,” Smith said. “He’s still the player that put up 46 on the Bucks in Game 6 to extend the Eastern Conference semifinals. He’s still the player who led his team to victory on the rod in the Eastern Conference finals.

Smith also made a similar point to Maxwell, comparing Tatum’s first Finals to a pair of NBA legends.

“Don’t forget, in Larry Bird’s first Finals, he scored just eight points in two different games. In Isiah Thomas’s first Finals, he had two games with just 10 points. He had another game with seven turnovers,” Smith said. “And how did they turn out? All the greats have growing pains.

“I’m not ready to say Jayson Tatum is a player anywhere near their level. But he’s only 24 – 6-foot-9 with a [jumper] and a mid-range game, all that stuff. He’s got time to look in the mirror and reflect on this. He can grow from it and get better. The story of Jayson Tatum’s career has yet to be written. There ain’t no way I’m going to let anyone say otherwise. The brother’s got a bright future. I believe in him.”

NBA Hall of Famer and TNT color commentator Reggie Miller also remained high on Tatum’s future. Appearing on “The Dan Patrick Show,” Miller, who didn’t reach the Finals until the 13th season of his career, thought back to his own playoff shortcomings and said how Tatum should move past what happened against the Warriors.

“Understand and relish in the disappointment of that series versus Golden State,” Miller said. “It’s painful. I’ve been there. At 24, the future is bright. To me, his star from him is only going to rise and rise. If he can take that pain of how that felt and use it to his advantage, I think the Celtics have something special brewing there.

Patrick wasn’t as high on Tatum’s outlook, calling his play “sloppy,” and said his decision-making can be bad at times as the Celtics forward became the first player to commit 100 turnovers in a postseason. But Miller mentioned that Giannis Antetokounmpo was viewed in a similar light to Tatum before he won his first title in 2021 as a 26-year-old.

“I think he can only get better,” Miller said. “… [Better decision-making] that can be learned. That’s through film work and that’s through experience. I’m not worried about Jayson Tatum. I know it’s disappointing because we were ready to annoint him. I get it, but you can’t discredit what he did throughout this postseason against some of the all-time greats in our game. I have beat Kevin Durant, Giannis, and Jimmy Butler. You can’t discredit that.

“He was an Eastern Conference finals MVP, all right? We’re taking six games and throwing everything else out the window. What about all those other games that mattered, those Game 7s where they were down 3-2 and he was facing elimination and how big he came up. Let’s not throw him under the bus quite yet. I think there’s room for growth for Tatum.”

There is one person though who isn’t high on Tatum and the Celtics’ chances to return to the Finals next season. NBA Hall of Famer and “Inside the NBA” analyst Charles Barkley said he rates a couple of other teams in the Eastern Conference higher than the Celtics in 2022-23.

“They’ve got a nice little nucleus,” Barkley said on the “Pat McAfee Show.” “But going into next season, you’re not going to pick them over Milwaukee with a healthy [Khris] Middleton. You’re not going to pick them over Brooklyn. There’s two teams before I’d take Boston right now. We don’t have any idea what Philly’s going to do.”

“I tell guys this all the time, this year is going to have nothing to do with next year,” Barkley added.

Oddsmakers give the Celtics the second-best odds to win the NBA title in 2023, trailing just the warriors.

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