One of the best ways for a basketball scorer to shake free from a committed defense is to catch the ball while on the move, instead of from a stationary position, so that his individual defender and the broader opposing defense don’t have time to get between him and a good look at the basket.
For example, when the Timberwolves were giving James Harden a hard time the other night in Minnesota, the Rockets largely shifted from having him bring the ball up the court to having him catch it while in the middle of fast looping curls up from the baseline. At least in part because of this adjustment they tore off a 50-point third quarter that essentially clinched their first-round series. It works!
The Celtics are really good, uh, in general, but specifically they’re very good at having Jayson Tatum, their terrific rookie, catch the ball on the move. But Tatum himself is also already one of the smartest dudes in the NBA about the very cool sister of that practice: catching-and-going, immediately, without pounding the ball in place or even indulging a single triple-threat jab step. He goes instantly. He shoots, drives, or passes immediately. It’s like the platonic ideal of smart, decisive basketball. It’s also just really damn cool.
This is so damn cool! It’s especially deadly in end-of-shot-clock situations, as in those two GIFs up there.
Sometimes Tatum will even take this one ballsy and even cooler extra step. He’ll attack while the ball is in flight, and turn a stationary catch into a moving one. He did this a few times last night against the Bucks. Here’s one example:
Slow this down to frame-by-frame analysis if you want to bicker about the timing, but look at Tatum’s feet, how he sets them and starts to launch before the ball even gets to him. This isn’t a scripted cut, where he begins his move before the pass is thrown, but rather a pass to a stationary position, and him launching into a drive after the pass is thrown but before it arrives. Yes, in this instance it led to a drive directly at a teammate and that teammate’s defender, and thus to a badly missed shot (he’s a rookie, dammit!), but it’s still smart and cool and the type of thing that gives opposing defenses nightmares.
After a while, this kind of decisiveness opens stuff up. Defenders get that much more frantic, knowing even unconsciously that Tatum will give them no time to recover—so that, for example, when he feints like he’s making a quick touch pass, man, it really works:
I don’t have some larger analytical point here. It’s Friday. This is just cool-ass shit from a very good basketball player I like a lot. He’s not the only dude who ever does it, but he does it a lot, and it’s always great. Everyone should play basketball more like Jayson Tatum. He rules.