NBA Hoops

Jayson Tatum and the variance problem

Jayson Tatum and the variance problem

On the most recent episode of First to the Floor, Ben, Jake, and I broke down the gutty win against the Timberwolves that was simultaneously encouraging and disappointing. The disappointment mainly resided with the C’s mercurial superstar. Jayson Tatum is, at times, a frustrating player to watch. A do-it-all wing that sometimes doesn’t feel like doing it all, a great shooter that only takes difficult shots; an improving finisher that doesn’t always get into position to finish. In short, Tatum has a way of making things more difficult on himself than it needs to be.

Tatum started the season playing the best basketball of his life, 31-8.1-4 on 61.3 TS% and 55.0 EFG% from the start of the season to the end of December. High level scoring on elite efficiency. Notably, his assists were down, below even his 4.4 average from last year. The reason? Where he was getting the ball. Since December, the assists are way up, 5.5, but the efficiency is a different story; true shooting is down to 58.6% and the EFG% to 51.9%. Both are solid but unspectacular.

In a basketball sense, making things difficult on the offensive end really boils down to where you start with the ball, and Tatum’s been starting with the ball in positions that aren’t conducive to what makes him great. All you have to do is look at the stats.

His elbow touches since January 1 are down slightly, from 2.9 to 2.6. His paint touches are down from 3.4 to 2.7. That’s not a lot, but it’s indicative of a general transformation in how he’s playing. He’s basically turning one possession a game from an elbow touch or paint touch into a pull up three (those have increased by almost exactly 1 during this same time frame). His time of possession went from 4.3 to 5.5, and his dribbles per touch are up from 2.6 to 3.1. He’s turning back into a ball dominant, moderately efficient wing and away from the quick decision-making finisher he was in the first half.

While it’s important for a star wing to be able to run a pick and roll and get into a pull-up three, there’s just absolutely zero reason Tatum should be relying on that for such an absurd amount of his offensive possessions. He’s taking 5.5 a game on 29% shooting since January 1. I understand that 3 > 2 and the math works in favor of taking a lot of threes, but sometimes limiting variance within a game is more important than winning the math on a macro level through the course of a season.

Take his two most recent performances….

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