On Wednesday, the Boston Celtics reached a four-year, $US127.8 million agreement with free agent wing Gordon Hayward, giving them another star for their loaded rotation.
Now they have one more reason to smile: Jayson Tatum, the third overall pick in this year’s draft, has looked terrific in the Utah Summer League.
Through two games, Tatum has averaged impressive numbers: 22 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3 steals. He’s also hit 51 per cent of his shots from the field.
On Monday night, Tatum wowed the crowd with his clutch shooting. With 5.7 seconds remaining in the game, the Duke product connected on a pull-up jumper to lift the Celtics over the Philadelphia 76ers. He scored 21 points in the win.
Two nights later, the Celtics lost to the San Antonio Spurs, a team with a deep reserve unit and an effective development team. But even in defeat, Tatum shined, putting up 23 points and 10 rebounds.
Neither of those performances would be so exciting if they hadn’t been accompanied by a multitude of creative post maneuvers. Check out this amazing dunk he threw down off a missed three-pointer from one of his teammates.
That powerful move made Tatum the talk of the league, exactly what the Celtics hoped they’d be getting when they swapped first round picks with the 76ers last month. The Missouri native has always excelled at creating opportunities for himself in the paint.
But even beyond that, Tatum has already shown improvement in his weak areas. He’s always had a reputation as a somewhat poor passer with a penchant for isolation, but take a look at this tricky assist he managed to pull off on Wednesday.
Getting excited about summer league stats can be a recipe for disappointment — we’ve seen top performers flame out in the fall as often as we’ve seen them contribute. However, when a player shows as much improvement in six months as Tatum has, it’s hard to not think about his boundless potential.
“At 19, his soul seems mature and older. His approach — he doesn’t get sped up,” Celtics summer league coach Jerome Allen said, according to Chris Forsberg of ESPN. “He’s physical, he competes, he rebounds, he puts it on the floor, he passes, he scores from the post, midrange and long ball. You’d be hard-pressed to find another 19-year-old in this country that just has the demeanour that he has.”
Tatum will join the Celtics’ core of Hayward and Isaiah Thomas, as well as Jaylen Brown, the third overall pick in 2016. Boston is currently trying to make salary cap room for the Hayward signing by trading one or two of Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley. But whoever stays will be part of one of the most formidable rotations in the league.
With Hayward joining the fold and a ton of young talent at their disposal, the 2017-18 Celtics are looking more and more like legitimate NBA Finals contenders every day. Even if Thomas regresses from last year’s career performance, the team should be much improved.
The Celtics currently have the third-best Vegas odds to win the NBA Finals, trailing only the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers.