Jayson Tatum has one game left to add to one of the most dominant individual offensive months in Celtics history.
Over 11 February games, the third-year forward is averaging 30.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3 assists and he is making 51.5 percent of his shots overall and 50 percent of his 3-pointers. The Celtics are 9-2 in that stretch, with the only losses coming on the road against Western Conference powers the Lakers and Rockets.
There are plenty of ways to explain Tatum’s dominance, and here are nine of them.
No open look? No matter
Earlier this season, Tatum wasn’t having much success when defended tightly on jump shots. Through Jan. 31, he had made just 25 percent of his shots from 10 feet or beyond when a defender was within 4 feet of him. In February, he has connected on 50 percent of his shots in those situations.
He even had success on the perimeter when big men such as Anthony Davis and Hassan Whiteside were lurking and putting their long arms in his view.
“Those guys are 7 feet tall so it’s tougher,” Tatum said. “Sometimes it goes in and sometimes they block it. You just try to get it off , try to get a good look.”
During February, 43.1 percent of Tatum’s shot attempts have been 3-pointers, up from 37.7 percent for the full season. Earlier this year he routinely passed up open looks if he sensed a defender charging his way or did not have a chance to get his feet set just right. Now, he is firing away without hesitation, and if he is not in a perfect position after catching the ball, he works to get in one rather than abandoning the play. It helps that the shots are going in at the highest clip of his career, of course.
Tatum’s range has been otherworldly. This month he has made 50.8 percent of his shots between 25 and 29 feet.
With Kemba Walker out and Tatum scorching the Lakers last Sunday, Los Angeles flustered Tatum a bit by swarming him with traps beyond the 3-point line. Tatum said he had never faced double-teams in one game so frequently, and adjustments were certainly required.
In film sessions the next day, the Celtics coaches used that footage for teaching moments, with coach Brad Stevens even pointing out “Harden traps,” referring to the similar ways defenses have swarmed the NBA’s leading scorer, James Harden.
The Celtics have a scheme in place to combat trapping, but most often it has come when defenses collapse on Walker. With the Jazz in need of a comeback on Wednesday and Tatum in the midst of another big game, Utah tried to blitz him with multiple defenders. But Tatum was poised and aware.
On one play midway through the quarter, Tatum remained calm as the Jazz blitzed him beyond the top of the key, then fired a crosscourt pass to Brad Wanamaker, who attacked for a 3-point play. Two minutes later, Jaylen Brown set a screen at the left arc and the Jazz doubled Tatum near the sideline, but he quickly found Brown for an open jumper before the situation soured.
“Jayson was prepared,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. “I was glad with the LA game. That was a good game for him to really get exposed to the double team, and what to do with it. Being prepared for it really helped us.”
An offensive juggernaut
Tatum has been an excellent defensive player this season, but make no mistake, this month it has been all about his offense. Boston has scored 119.2 points per 100 possessions with Tatum on the court in February and just 100.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench. To put those figures in perspective, Boston’s offensive rating with Tatum on the court this month would be the best in the NBA, and its rating with Tatum on the bench would be the league’s worst.
During February, the Celtics are allowing 108.4 points per 100 possessions with Tatum on the floor and just 101.3 when he goes to the bench, so the defense has stepped up without him.
The game’s greatest stars can create scoring chances on their own, when plays break down or when they just sense the time is right. Through Jan. 31, 48.4 percent of Tatum’s field goals have been unassisted. This month, that number has spiked to 58.1 percent.
In a related stat, 50 percent of Tatum’s shot attempts this month have come after taking three or more dribbles, compared with 40.1 percent prior to that.
His teammates love this
Unlike last season, when there was constant tension regarding roles and relegations throughout the roster, the Celtics are fully embracing Tatum’s star turn. Walker, who figured to be this team’s primary option and best player, has had no issue yielding to Tatum in big moments.
Tatum has attempted 20.2 shots per game in February, but no one seems to mind.
“It’s super exciting for all of us,” Walker said. “Whenever you see a new guy like that raise his game to new heights, continuously, he’s just been on another level for quite some time now, man.”
And when Brown wasn’t putting up 20-point games of his own this week he was spending much of the time as Tatum’s personal hype man.
“Tatum has reached a new height: superstar level,” Brown said. “And we all have to continue to improve and go with him. The way he continues to improve is unreal. We have to continue to find ways to help him reach his potential.”
Big man chemistry
After the Celtics’ win over the Trail Blazers on Tuesday, Tatum smiled and said that he was going to buy center Daniel Theis a nice watch for his birthday to thank him for springing him free with so many well-timed and well-set screens. Theis, perhaps Boston’s most improved player, has an excellent knowledge of what Boston is trying to do and when it is trying to do it.
“He opened the game up so much for me,” Tatum said, “getting me easy buckets and then that opens the game.”
Also, Tatum has brewing offensive chemistry with both Theis and backup center Enes Kanter. Over the first 47 games of the year, Tatum had 19 baskets on assists from Theis and Kanter. Over 11 games this month, he has 11.
Calmly carry your team
Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether Tatum just hit a game-changing shot or woke up from a nap. He typically maintains a calm disposition during games, and even during this stretch in which praise and adulation has flowed in from all corners, he has been noticeably humble.
Even after pouring in a career high 41 points in the Staples Center against LeBron James and Davis, he mostly shrugged.
“It was a step in the right direction,” Tatum said.
Stevens has noticed this cool countenance before.
“He can operate in any environment and when things get crazy out on the court, he has a great way about him and a very calm way about him,” the coach said. “He doesn’t change that much when he’s off the court.”
There is no advanced metric for confidence, but anyone who watches Tatum can tell his is soaring right now. The clear shift occurred after he was named an All-Star last month for the first time. Celtics players said they’ve noticed it, and increasingly, opponents have, too.
“I think the best part about this story is he’s had a year worthy of being named an All-Star,” Stevens said, “and then he’s gotten better since he was named an All-Star.”
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.