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21-year-old Celtics star Jayson Tatum is dominating after 'reaching a new height' and earning praise from LeBron James

Published by Business Insider on Mon, 24 Feb 2020

Third-year Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum is on a scoring tear that has gotten the NBA's attention.On Sunday, Tatum scored 41 points, dueling with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, in a down-to-the-wire loss to the Los Angeles Lakers that drew praise from James.The Celtics have been viewed as pseudo-contenders all season, but if Tatum can sustain his current pace, he may give the Celtics a No. 1 scoring option that could elevate them in the postseason.Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.Seemingly out of nowhere, Boston Celtics' third-year forward Jayson Tatum has made the leap from promising young player to full-blown star.The 21-year-old is averaging 29 points on 48% shooting, 46% from three, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 8 free-throw attempts per game in February.Just before the All-Star break, before attending his first All-Star Game, Tatum out-dueled Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers in double-overtime, scoring 39 points on 14-of-23 shooting, with 9 rebounds.On Sunday, Tatum went toe-to-toe with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, scoring 41 points on 12-of-20 shooting in down-to-the-wire, losing effort against the Los Angeles Lakers. While James hit a go-ahead jumper to put the Lakers up for good with 30 seconds to play, Tatum's dominance on Sunday remained the biggest takeaway from the game."Tatum has reached a new height, man," Celtics guard-forward Jaylen Brown said on Sunday (via The Athletic's Jay King). "Superstar level.""The kid is special," James said after the game. "Obviously, that's the reason, first-time All-Star. He's been special all year ... He was special all night."James is no stranger to Tatum's talent. The two went head-to-head in the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals, Tatum's rookie year, with Tatum even getting the best of James on a Game 7 poster dunk. The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, advanced to the Finals.James drafted Tatum to his All-Star team this year.After Sunday's win, James commemorated their battle with an Instagram post, calling Tatum an "absolute problem." That boi to the left of me is an ABSOLUTE PROBLEM!! Keep going #YoungKing'' #OnelegSleeveGang lol ''''' A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on Feb 23, 2020 at 5:27pm PSTon Feb 23, 2020 at 5:27pm PST Tatum's recent eruption has been a long-anticipated development, but one that doesn't come easily. After a promising rookie year that saw him make the All-Rookie First Team, Tatum didn't make the leap many expected last year, stagnating while a promising Celtics team failed to reach their potential.This season, Tatum has raised his scoring average by over seven points per game (15.7 to 22.9), and while his overall efficiency is down (likely due to volume), his shot selection has improved and he's getting to the free-throw line more frequently.Several times during Sunday's game, ESPN/ABC analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson remarked that Tatum's ball-handling was significantly tighter and stronger. He's increasingly developed the tools to be a go-to scorer.To slow Tatum down, the Lakers began sending double-teams at him, forcing him to give up the ball. It's essentially a sign of respect from a defense ' conceding baskets to other players rather than letting one person beat them over and over."I thought obviously he saw some run-and-jumps that he hasn't seen before," Celtics head coach Stevens said after the game of the Lakers' double-teams. "So that's good practice and good to know that we've got to look at that. We should be able to take advantage of that a little bit better than we did."Tatum is just getting a handle on being a go-to scorer. As Stevens noted, he will get more practice with having to pass out of double-teams, either setting up his teammates better or finding a way to get the ball again in space.Tatum won't keep up this efficiency, but if the strides he's taken keep up through the remainder of the season, the Celtics suddenly jump a level with him. The Celtics own the NBA's fifth-best offense and third-best defense. For the season, they've outscored teams by 10.8 points per 100 possessions with Tatum on the floor ' a rate that rivals the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks if it were sustained.The Celtics are a little short on depth and size. But if this version of Tatum can last, Boston could reasonably argue that they have the second-best player in the conference, a big deal for when the postseason arrives.Read more:Dwyane Wade talks his new ESPN documentary, 'peak' Heat and LeBron James, and young NBA stars he admires todayKobe Bryant's tragic death sent shockwaves around the world and put a spotlight on how to grieve a public iconMarch Madness tips off in a month ' Here are the top 20 biggest names to look out forNBA POWER RANKINGS: Where all 30 teams stand for the stretch run of the seasonJoin the conversation about this storyNOW WATCH: 5 things about the NFL that football fans may not know
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