Forsberg: Bulked-up Tatum should be dominant around the basket originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
By now you’ve probably seen the viral photos of Jayson Tatum. You know, the one where he’s casually hoisting a 100-pound dumbbell and looking like he kidnapped Semi Ojeleye’s biceps. Maybe you’re a Celtics fan just waking up after fainting at the sight of Tatum’s new swole look. Even the Celtics pounced by posting a #ThrowbackThursday comparing skinny 2019 Tatum vs. veins-popping-out-of-his-shoulders 2021 Tatum.
Here’s what we’d like to see Tatum do with his newfound mass: muscle home more buckets at the basket during the 2021-22 season. Only 30.1 percent of the Celtics’ total shots last season came at the rim (ranking 25th in the NBA, per Cleaning the Glass data). Maybe even more infuriating: Boston ranked ninth in shooting percentage at the rim but too often settled for less efficient perimeter looks.
Tatum is skilled enough to create quality looks from the perimeter but his percentage of shots at the rim has decreased every year as a pro. After taking 39 percent of his shots at the rim as a rookie, he was down at 28 percent during the 2020-21 season, per Cleaning the Glass data.
It’s time for Tatum to combine his obvious length with his newfound bulk and generate more finishes at the basket. He shot a career-best 68 percent at the rim last season. It wouldn’t hurt if he could muscle home a few baskets through contact, too. Tatum made only 21.9 percent of his possible and-1 finishes last season, which ranked in the 43rd percentile among all forwards, per Cleaning the Glass.
In fact, Tatum was only fouled on 9.7 percent of his total shots attempts last year. For context, Jimmy Butler gets a whistle on 20.8 percent of his attempts (but maybe no other wing in the league get more whistles than Butler). Even if Tatum simply shimmied closer to Kawhi Leonard (fouled on 11.8 percent of shot attempts), it should put him in position to truly be one of the league’s top scorers, given how easy Tatum makes big scoring nights look.
We’re ready for some Bully Ball Tatum next year. If new coach Ime Udoka elects to lean heavy on smallball lineups, the Celtics could feature Tatum at the 4 quite often. Tatum needs to be ready to joust at both ends of the floor, particularly when matched up with bigger 4s. Being able to hold his ground and lean on skill versus big opponents would be huge, especially if he can use his size and bulk to overpower smaller wings.
If we’re being honest, the very top thing on our Tatum wish list is more playmaking. That has to be a priority for both him and All-Star teammate Jaylen Brown. But after the Tatum workout photos emerged we had to audible and wonder if Tatum can power his way through all those help defenders he’s going to see this season. Can he make all the weight room time translate to more time at the free-throw line?
During the month of April last season, Tatum averaged 29.7 points over 36.3 minutes per game. After only getting to the line 3.7 times per game in March (this while working his way back from a bout with COVID), that number spiked to 7.3 attempts per game at the charity stripe in April. A barrage of 50-point games followed.
Now, after winning a gold medal in Tokyo, Weight Room Tatum is positioned to really assert himself in this upcoming season. Especially if he uses his newfound bulk to be a LeBron-like battering ram going at the basket.
Editor's note: In the countdown to the start of training camp, we’re detailing one thing we’d like to see from members of the Boston Celtics during the 2021-22 season.