This summer, Jayson Tatum worked out a bunch with Kobe Bryant, who has made his admiration for the Celtics’ young star well known. Getting some pointers from one of the most accomplished players in NBA history seems like a self-evidently good decision, but I’m starting to fear that Tatum took more than just some tips about post-up play from those sessions. It brings me no pleasure to report that Tatum seems to have contracted a slight strain of Kobe Brain.
What is Kobe Brain? It’s the kind of basketball mindset that leads to a lot of shots like this:
Tatum, who has been deputized to do more on offense for the Celtics so far this season, has been taking a lot of shots like that so far this year. He certainly has the talent to score at volume for his team and should be empowered to play aggressively, but it’s hard not to see the ghost of Kobe hovering near his shoulders while he repeatedly jacks up contested mid-range jumpers.
Tatum’s shooting numbers are down across the board from last season, and it seems to have a lot to do with the types of shots he’s choosing to take. He’s taking 15 percent fewer shots at the rim, and 10 percent more two-pointers from beyond 10 feet. Less than half of his shots are assisted now, which speaks to how much he likes to shoot off the dribble. Per NBA tracking stats (as first pointed out by Dave DuFour), Tatum is up to 4.1 shots per game after more than two dribbles, and 51.5 percent of his field goal attempts have been pull-up jumpers. He’s now shooting 40 percent on the season, and just 36 percent for 12.6 points per game over his last five games.
It’s obviously difficult to carry a hefty offensive burden as a 20-year-old on a team with championship aspirations, though Tatum shoulders the load best when he moves, cuts, and attacks, instead of fading into leaning jumpers after biffing his defender with his lead shoulder. Brad Stevens said after the Celtics lost to the Nuggets last night that the offense got “iso-heavy” at times. When you can dribble like Kyrie Irving, a smattering of isolation plays is fine. Tatum’s not that sort of player, and as the Celtics find their feet, they currently have the NBA’s 27th most efficient offense.
That will doubtlessly improve, and a good place to start would be to excise all this fatty Kobe cosplay from Tatum’s diet and get him back on those fibrous shots at the rim.