Ah yes, June 22, 2017. What a glorious day that forever changed the future of our beloved Celtics franchise. Hearing Jay Bilas talk about Tatum after that selection is something that will always feel my heart with joy. Maybe you were someone who thought things couldn't get much better after the Celts finally won their first Lottery since the thing started. Little did we know Danny Ainge had another trick up his sleeve and bamboozled the Sixers like he has so many other franchises. Knowing you're taking Tatum the whole way and getting another asset for your troubles is the Danny Ainge special. If he was worried about the Sixers taking Tatum he could have just stayed at #1, but they feel for the Fultz hype and the rest is history.
Obvioiusly Tatum's Year 1 was not exactly what we were expecting. When Gordon Hayward's ankle injury happened a few minutes into the first game of the season, everything changed. Tatum couldn't really be eased into the NBA. He had to be a legit #2/#3 option for a team that had NBA title aspirations. To say he rose to the occasion is the understatement of the century. It wasn't just his 13.9/5.0 on 47/42% splits. It was eye test
The regular season showed that Tatum had the chance to be really special. But the playoffs were a different story. Regular season doesn't mean shit if you can't back it up when defenses tighten up and things become much harder. Well, he responded with 18.5/4.4/2.7/1.2 on 47/32% and was a huge factor in their deep run. Shit, had they passed him the fucking ball more down the stretch in Game 7, that team makes the Finals
That 2017-18 season had us all over the moon for the 2018-19 season. If Tatum was already that good as a 19 year old rookie, imagine what he looked like with a year of experience under his belt. But here's the truth. There was no Year 2 leap. At least not what we were expecting. So much isolation midrange, the efficiency wasn't there, and while his 15.7/6.0/2.1 on 45/37% was nice, it wasn't exactly what the hype surrounding Tatum suggested we would see.
There was a clear difference in that season compared to the one before that was primarily run by the kids. They carried this team and then had to take a backseat with Hayward and Kyrie back, and it didn't really mesh. You throw in shot happy Mook and we all remember the disaster that was the 2018-19 season.
Then the playoffs hit and things got even worse. He threw up just 15.2/6.7/1.9 on 43/32% during their run and it gets even uglier the closer you look. His Ortg dropped from 109 his rookie year to 99 last year. He was a no show against the Bucks in the second round, averaging just 12 points on 34/10% shooting after looking unstoppable against the Pacers (19 points on 49.9/54%). It was a gross ending to what was a gross season.
But when Danny Ainge decided not to gut his roster for one season of Anthony Davis, it was clear that the franchise was making the decision to fully give the keys to the two Jays. They would only go as far as those guys, especially Tatum, could carry them. The result? That star leap we wanted to see in Year 2. It didn't happen then, but it sure as shit is happening now
The best part though is this leap is not just coming on the offensive end. We knew Tatum had the potential to become one of the best scoring wings in the league, but for him to be THAT GUY, he also had to take a leap on the defensive end. It brings me great pleasure to remind you that a defensive leap is very much happening as well
Now, Tatum is an All Star and very well could end up on an All NBA team. He's 22 and has flourished as this team's #1 option. He's proved to be a problem against the best of the best from either conference. I'd say if every Celtics fan gave you their wish of what Tatum would turn into on that night in 2017, the player we see today is what that looks like.
He's not perfect. Far from it. There are still efficiency questions. There is still a level of consistency that Tatum needs to show before he gets elevated to a top 10 player or any of that shit. There's also the question of what he can do in the playoffs this year now that he has this #1 option role.
But there is no denying that June 17th, 2017 changed this team forever. Tatum has every chance in the world to be this franchise's next Paul Pierce and that is not something I say lightly. NBA history is filled with "what ifs" that could have potentially changed the fate of certain teams, and I'm just glad we don't have to play the "what if Danny Ainge took Tatum instead of Fultz" game. That would drive me insane.