A Closer Look At Why Jayson Tatum Is Struggling And How The Celtics Can Fix It

Nathaniel S. Butler. Getty Images.

If you read my blog from this morning, you saw the numbers of Jayson Tatum so far in this series. They're beyond brutal. It's not like we haven't seen Tatum struggle before, but I wanted to look closer at his first two games and see if there's anything that stood out to help explain why he's been so ineffective. We all know that any chance the Celts have to not get blown the fuck out pretty much hinders on what version of Tatum we get. 

For a player that averaged 29.7 points a game on 50/44% splits in the 3 regular season games against Brooklyn, something's up. So here's what I've spent my day doing. I went through both games and pulled the tape of every one of his missed shots. As you can imagine, that took forever. What I was curious about was if his struggles were just some missed looks he normally makes? Was it an approach thing? Have the Nets found a way to scheme him so he's ineffective? Let's have a look

Game 1

It's not that this isn't a shot Tatum can make. We've seen him do it. But what this is, at least for me, was our first case of what I would call Tatum settling. That's Blake Griffin. He can't stay in front of Jayson Tatum. We know that because they later pulled Blake in this game. But here's the thing. Given the score and situation, the Celts came out great and needed to capitalize, I don't exactly love this shot. What's clear is that Kyrie and Harden are completely ignoring their defender. This is something to keep an eye on because when it comes to the Nets defensive scheme in this series it explains alot. Look at where Kyrie is. They are willing to take their chances with Fournier if it means limiting Tatum's ability to drive.

In that aspect, you could argue that the Nets scheme baited Tatum into this shot. Again it's one he can make, but it was heavilty contested. That's a win for BKN.

Here it is again on Tatum's very next miss. I'd also say this is a shot we've seen Tatum make. But at this point in the game the Nets had started to come back, it felt like Tatum was going for the homerun three here. Call me crazy, but I don't love anyone on this team taking contested 25 footers with Durant challenging the shot. It was our first look at Durant's length being a factor (more on his as you read). The pullup three is a big piece of Tatum's arsenal, but what we're learning is that the Nets have the perimeter length to take that shot away.

One recurring theme you're going to see here is Tatum has not really been able to generate any separation off the dribble. Brown does a great job staying with him here, and when Tatum realizes that gets shut off and he goes into his spin, you can see there are 4 Nets players in the paint. This eliminates Tatum's ability to go with the stepthrough, so he instead goes to the contested turnaround fadeaway. 


Back to the Nets scheme. Look at how Durant is completely ignoring Smart and instead rotates in. Harden does the same shit with Jabari Parker and reaches in. It's very clear that their whole plan is to send every defender at Tatum and live with the results. 

In terms of approach on this play, no problems whatsoever. The paint was open and Tatum was aggressive. Problem is, he has to know James Harden reaches like this. He has no problem letting you get a step because he'll just poke at the ball. For someone like Tatum that tends to bring the ball down, that's how you get plays like this. Is this called a foul when it happens against Harden? Most likely. But that's just a heads up play to prevent the floater/lob to Thompson.

I think it's unrealistic to say that Tatum should never take a shot like this with a smaller defender on him. He's a scorer and I am not in the business of trying to limit his bag. Once again we see Harden cheating way off Parker and Claxton is able to help of Pritchard because he's 40 ft away. By the time Tatum takes his shot, it's completely uncontested. Could not have had a cleaner look


You live with the results here. 

The only thing I want to keep pointing out is the Nets scheme. All their guys cheating this much off their primary cover so they can help over on Tatum is making a real impact. Even look at where Joe Harris is, he's basically in the middle on the paint in the event Tatum did actually drive.

This is just a smoked bunny. Maybe it was Claxton's length, maybe it's the fact that Tatum isn't super confident with his left hand, I'm not sure. But you like how he put his head down and attacked. I do wonder if running these sets with Thompson where he rolls to the rim and clogs the paint only makes things worse. Imagine if this was a pick and pop play instead. Probably creates a little more space for Tatum at the rim. So while Tatum should probably finish this play, this is where Brad's lineup/system kind of bones them. It's hard enough to get Tatum clean looks, bringing in more bodies just because Thompson can only roll isn't great.

More of the same issues here. First, there's no real separation with Tatum and Brown from the start of the drive, then we have Kyrie following the scheme of not giving a shit about his guy and instead just contesting Tatum. In that situation, the only shot Tatum really has is the contested fadeaway. When he shoots it, once again we see all 5 Nets players in the paint. They are taking that shit away and willing to risk whatever else happens. It's working.


So by now you should see the recurring theme. This really isn't all that different from his early iso against Blake. There's no separation, Kyrie again cheats a ton off his man, and once the drive is cut off we see Tatum go to the fadeaway. Only issue is because there was no space, Blake's hand is in his face the whole time. It's a great contest. Granted that one was in and out so that's just a tough miss, but it really shows how committed the Nets are to just taking everything away the second Tatum puts the ball on the floor.

I can't imagine anyone has a problem with Tatum taking a wide open uncontested 15ft pullup. A good shot, shitty result. Nothing wrong with the approach, just missed. No biggie. Kyrie does a good job of fronting the post, Fournier doesn't want to turn it over so he waits a moment and gets his guy a look in a great zone. 

With this shot at the end of the third quarter, you could see the sidestep pullup coming a mile away. Not surprising given how well the Nets had shut off all Tatum's drives up until that point, plus this is a shot he makes all the time. His look was mostly clean, and given that this was when the Nets started to turn the game, I can understand trying to end the quarter with a three like that. With Durant cheating over like that and his length, this shot made sense to me.


Here, in a close game in the fourth, we see Tatum do exactly what we want in that scenario. He put his head down and attacked. Probably got fouled here too. Once again though, we see where his lack of separation hurt him in this game. When he gets into his layup, Brown has already recovered and contested, which forced Tatum to sort of widen his layup, causing it to fall short. Instead of going straight through and finishing hard at the rim, it felt like he went a more round a bout path while also absorbing body contact. That's how you miss a layup short.

I mean that's just a straight up missed wide open three. Dunno really what else to say. Gotta make that one.

Tatum's final shot of Game 1 pretty much summed up what was the issue all night. It starts with not really getting any separation off his dribble, then you have the added Nets scheme of cheating off all their guys to pay attention to Tatum, followed by him missing a bunny. Kyrie isn't even guarding Kemba, Thompson being under the basket brings his defender with great length into the mix, and Green does a great job staying with Tatum on the drive. That's perfect execution on the BKN side.

Game 1 Conclusion: Tatum really struggled getting any sort of separation on his drives which is an issue given how much BKN cheats over. His approach was what we all want, he was aggressive, he just wasn't getting by anyone.

Game 2


Nothing really stands out with this first miss. This is a shot we all want Tatum taking, we know he can make it, and it was wide open. No real issues for me.

Here was Tatum's second miss. Honestly, from an approach standpoint this is what we all want right? He's not settling, he recognized that with Blake Griffin so far out matching Thompson that there was nobody at the rim. Those are the situations I want Tatum trying to exploit. 

But what we do see is our first sign of maybe why Tatum has been struggling. Durant's length is part of this play, but not the whole thing. He read the eurostep from a mile away and was waiting for Tatum to bring the ball down. That little tie up probably fucked up Tatum's timing, and then he was also there to challenge the shot. That's just great individual defense by a really good defender. I think Durant does a great job of not fouling here too.

This is not a play where I would consider Tatum "settled" for a jumper. KD, Blake, Harden, and even Joe Harris are all ready to slide over if he continues into the paint. Once again though, we see Durant's length be a factor. I consider this a fine approach and another case of very solid defense by Durant. 


I suppose the one thing you might not love is the 3PA with 18 left on the shot clock, but then you remember this is Jayson Tatum getting a pretty clean look from a zone he's proven he can make it from. I put this into the same category as the first shot. Personally, when I see Tatum get a clean look from any spot on the floor, I want him shooting. It's not like Green really did anything to challenge this, just a tough miss on a shot we've seen Tatum make a million times.

Foul? Maybe, but I can see why they didn't call it. My question is more around something we see a lot with Tatum over the years. Is he afraid to use his left hand? Doesn't it feel like he always try to sneak it in with his right hand on the left side? What I mean is if you watch the clip you see that while his momentum is taking him one way, he has to reach backwards with his right hand to put this up

That's why he left it short in my opinion. Next time, just go up strong and dunk it with your left hand


From an approach standpoint, this is again exactly what you want Tatum to do in this situation. He gets the switch on the smaller defender and doesn't even think of settling for the jumper. At the same time, given what had transpired earlier in the quarter, it did feel like he pulled up for the layup a little early right? I have a theory. You see how Durant was hunting that play? I feel like Tatum thought he was closer than he was and feared the block due to Durant's length. I mean since when do we see Tatum airball a finger roll? 

I think this is what we're also seeing from a Nets scheme standpoint. Durant is acting as a free safety on a ton of drives in this series. So just because you think you have an advantage against someone like Shamet, the Nets are doing a great job in keeping Durant engaged, especially when Tatum has the ball. 

On this play, Tatum is sort of a prisoner of the moment. Only 2 seconds on the shot clock, he's a little out of control coming out of the split and with the great rotation by Brown you can tell it sort of fucked up his timing. Here we see him use his left hand and well….maybe that's why he doesn't use it.

I'm not going to get too worked up about trying to make some shit happen in a tough inbounds spot at the end of the clock, but it really helped show how many of these bunnies Tatum smoked in Game 2.

Another case of Tatum doing everything we want him to do. He attacked. He exploited mismatches and attacked the paint. He was also very clearly fouled here. The box score shows this as a missed FG, but in reality it's 2 FTA. Doesn't really matter much given the score, but nothing here tells you there's a problem offensively with what Tatum is trying to do. He just didn't get the whistle.


Once again, no problem with Tatum's approach here. In fact, he got fouled here as well. I actually like that he went with a little mini stepthrough move out of the post. That's really effective for him. 

Game 2 Conclusion: It was clear that the main issue for Tatum in Game 2 had a lot to do with Durant's length. Normally when we see him throw up a stinker like this (3-12), it's because Tatum was not aggressive. That is not what happened in Game 2 either. He didn't settle. There were some missed open looks and then some smoked bunnies. That's the type of shit that only is magnified when you're struggling. I would be much more concerned if Tatum's struggles had to do more with his reluctance to be aggressive than anything else.

So what do they do?

For starters, they have to find ways to help Tatum get more separation. He's not going to get it by himself, that much is clear. It's also pretty evident that the Nets scheme is working pretty flawlessly through these first two games. Maybe try more things with Tatum off ball, where you can get him on cuts and things of that nature so that he has cleaner looks. Also, how about running some sets where other guys on the court are also moving. When everyone stands around, it allows all the Nets to cheat in, which is obviously going to impact the looks Tatum gets.

The encouraging part is despite his brutal efficiency, it's not due to his same old bad habits, where he is afraid to attack. It's actually been the opposite. We've seen Tatum be mostly aggressive on all those misses. I just showed you every shot he's missed over the last 2 games. 

They need to be better about finding to get Tatum scoring opportunities where Durant's length isn't a factor. What about some switches, and then taking that guy down to the post. That gives Tatum more options, he can pass out of a potential double team, and it increases his chances of getting to the line. I'd love to see some of that moving forward.