Jayson Tatum: Trial by Fire

The young Jayson Tatum has started his first three NBA games, played more than 30 minutes in each, and looked great while doing it. Call it a small sample size, or call one of the best rookie debuts for the Celtics in about 40 years. Your choice.

With the indefinite loss of Gordon Hayward, the Boston Celtics will look to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, (AKA Jaywatch) 19 and 20 years old respectively, to make up for the loss on both ends of the floor. While Brown has stepped up tremendously, Tatum has already stolen the hearts of fans as he makes an early impression on the Celtics record books.

Tatum’s 14 points and 10 rebounds in Cleveland made him the first Celtic since Larry Bird to post a double-double in his NBA debut. It’s good company, although not the most exclusive. Here are some other debuts from high draft picks over the years:

Name Draft position Year Debut numbers
Paul Pierce 10 1999 19 pts/9 reb/5 ast
Antoine Walker 6 1996 12 pts/ 3 rebs
Joe Johnson 10 2001 10 pts/7 reb/4 ast
Chauncey Billups 3 1997 15 pts/2 reb/4 ast
Marcus Smart 6 2014 10 pts/2 reb/2 ast/ 4 stl
Jaylen Brown 3 2016 9 pts/2 reb/ 1 ast/ 2 blk

(Kevin McHale also had 10 in his debut, but there are no other stats listed for him on basketball-reference.)

The other rookies to debut with double-doubles this season are Ben Simmons (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Dennis Smith Jr. (16 points, 10 assists). Tatum’s 36 minutes played were the most of any rookie in their first game this season.

Here’s a weird thought: Jayson Tatum has played the second most minutes in the NBA as of October 21st. He’s played 106 minutes in his first three games, trailing only Kyrie Irving’s 114. Of course, the Celtics are the only team to play three games in the season’s first four nights, but, a 19-year-old playing the second most minutes? That’s…magical.

Tatum’s 12 points per game come as a pleasant surprise, even with so many minutes opened up for him, although it’s worth noting that his free throw shooting has been slightly more impactful than his hesitant offense in the half court. His perfect nine-of-nine from the line in Philly was vital as the Celtics only shot 22 of 32 from the line, but his .902 points per possession have him in the bottom half of the league, per Synergy. His 40% shooting from the field is fine, but one-of-five from three is holding his numbers down a bit, but those shots will fall eventually. 

And the defense?