Shortly after the Boston Celtics lost to the Golden State
Warriors in last year’s NBA Finals, Jayson Tatum received a text
from his trainer Drew Hanlen.
“The first text message I sent to him was, ‘Hey, you're gonna be
back. And you're gonna be better because of this,’” Hanlen recalled
to Basketball News.
Hanlen knew that the Finals loss would light a fire under Tatum.
Over the offseason, Hanlen predicted that Tatum was about to make a
big leap and become a “monster.” He saw the work that Tatum was
putting in and how much untapped potential he still has.
"I mean, Jayson went on an unbelievable run. He's 24 years old
and he's been to three Eastern Conference Finals and one NBA
Finals. He's a two-time All-NBA [selection], a three-time All-Star
and a two-time All-Star starter,” Hanlen said last summer. “And
he's got so much room to grow.”
And for the first time in several years, Tatum had a full
offseason to work on his game.
“When we look at the last couple years, he hasn't really had
offseasons as much,” Hanlen told me in July. “The one year, they go
in the Bubble and they go all the way to the Eastern Conference
Finals; we had like two weeks that offseason and then he goes and
plays and he starts off really slow. Then, [the next summer], he
goes to play with USA Basketball and wins a gold medal; we have a
couple-week offseason and he starts really slow. This year, we
finally had a full offseason so that he can start the season strong
instead of kind of working his way in.”
When asked what things Tatum worked on over the summer, Hanlen
mentioned driving through contact, playing through fouls and
finishing at the rim.
He also wanted Tatum to be more consistent with his pull-up
jumper and three-point shot, particularly early in the season
(rather than struggling out of the gate and improving as the season
progressed, as he did in recent years).
It’s clear that Tatum’s offseason work is paying off. He is in
the midst of a career-year, averaging 30.8 points, 8.1 rebounds,
4.1 assists, 3.2 threes, 1.1 steals and 0.8 blocks per game on
.472./351/.856 shooting splits.
According to Cleaning The Glass, he's finishing 71% of his shot
attempts at the rim this season, which is a career-best. Also,
Tatum is drawing a shooting foul on 14.4% of his shot attempts,
which is the highest rate of his career (and up from 11% last
season). This ranks in the 81st percentile among
And to Hanlen’s point about shooting well out of the gate, Tatum
shot the ball really well at the beginning of the season. In
October, he shot 55.7% from the field, 40.8% from three-point range
and 90.2% from the free-throw line.
If you compare Tatum’s early-season production in recent years,
you can see just how effective he was to begin the season. Here’s a
look at his pre-Christmas numbers over the last four years:
2022-23: 55.2 eFG% |
70% at rim | 36% 3PT
2021-22: 48.5 eFG% |
60% at rim | 33% 3PT
2020-21*: 50.4 eFG% |
63% at rim | 38% 3PT
2019-20: 48.6 eFG% |
54% at rim | 36% 3PT
*The 2020-21 season started
late, so these are his stats through Feb. 25 — a similar two-month
As of late, Tatum has struggled to maintain this efficiency.
He's been dealing with a bit of a shooting slump (particularly from
deep) in recent weeks. Still, Tatum has emerged as a legitimate MVP
candidate, with most sportsbooks giving him the second- or
third-best odds to win the award.
The Celtics are currently 28-12, which is the best record in the
NBA. They have the league's top-ranked offense (scoring 115.8
points per 100 possessions) and 10th-ranked defense (allowing 109.5
points per 100 possessions).
Boston is determined to make another Finals run, and Hanlen
can't wait to dunk on Tatum's doubters if he finally hoists the
Larry O'Brien trophy.
“When he lost the Finals, that whole night, I don't think I
caught my second wind. Like, it felt like I lost; my gut was
turning, and I wasn't even out there playing,” Hanlen told me in
July. “It's just, I felt what he felt.
“For about the next hour, I wasted an hour of my time
screen-shotting all these notable analysts or notable people with
big followings that were criticizing, hating and doubting Jayson,
and I put them all in a folder. And I cannot wait to arrogantly
send them out when he finally holds up a championship trophy.”
Basketball News writer Ethan Fuller contributed to this