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Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum sinking 3-pointers with unforeseen and unparalleled efficiency


DETROIT – Jayson Tatum says he doesn’t understand eschewing mid-range jumpers, which analytics have shown are typically less efficient when other shots – 3-pointers and shots at the rim – are available. He subscribes to decades of basketball orthodoxy reinforced by his own experience at the highest level of college basketball and the praise heaped upon him at summer league.

“Some of the best players ever were great at mid-range,” Tatum said. “Kobe, Michael Jordan, Paul Pierce, Dirk.”

Ever since the Celtics drafted Tatum No. 3 last June, Boston coach Brad Stevens has tried to deprogram Tatum’s attitude on jumpers.

Tatum heard from Stevens during the summer.

“If I was involved in a film session at all this summer, it was about what a good shot looks like once you get to the NBA,” Stevens said.

Tatum heard from Stevens during training camp.

“If I would pass up a 3 to take a mid-range 2, he’d stop practice,” Tatum said.

And Tatum has heard from Stevens during the regular season.

“We have tried to make it an emphasis to don’t hesitate to shoot, right?” Stevens said. “He’s so tall that, on the catch, he can get that shot off. And probably his inclination has probably always been to fake it and drive it. But he shoots it with ease and feels good every time he shoots it.”

Somewhere along line, Stevens’ message got through. Tatum has taken more than twice as many 3-pointers as long 2s. The change in Tatum’s approach is an overwhelming victory for smarts over stubbornness. Simply by changing his shot selection, Tatum has become much more valuable to Boston.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s making a stunning 51.5% of his 3-pointers, either.

Not only does Tatum lead the NBA in 3-point percentage (among qualified players, as are all 3-point percentages in this story)…


Not only is he on pace for the best 3-point percentage every by a rookie…


He’s posting one of the best 3-point percentages of all-time:


It’s a startling output for someone who didn’t shoot especially well from the college arc just last season. Tatum made just 34.2% of his 3-pointers in his lone season at Duke. Nobody with such a low college 3-point percentage has ever cracked 40%, let alone 50%, as a rookie.

“Anybody who says they’re not surprised by the 3-point shooting based on what he did in college is lying,” Pistons president/coach Van Gundy said.

Yet, Van Gundy endorses an assertion the Celtics made after they traded down from No. 1 to draft Tatum at No. 3.

“I thought he was the best prospect in the draft,” said Van Gundy, a more neutral observer. “He’s got all the tools.”

Tatum has the athleticism to attack the rim, and he has shown a proclivity for drawing fouls. At 6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan and good mobility, he already looks like a solid defender with the potential to become a shutdown stopper. He’s helpful on the glass, too.

But it’s 3-point shooting that makes him the most likely No. 1 pick in a redone 2017 draft. Nobody else taken top six is shooting even 30% on 3s, the troubles of No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz and No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball especially pronounced.

Maybe Tatum’s long-distance success is unsustainable. He has attempted just 99 3-pointers (making 51). That’s not a large enough sample to prove Tatum is now reliable from beyond the arc. It’s probably wise to be skeptical of something that recently seemed so improbable.

On the other hand, even if this is just a hot stretch, it’s one usually reserved for good 3-point shooters. The player Tatum was most compared to before the draft, Carmelo Anthony, never made 51-of-99 3-pointers in any stretch of his career – and Anthony made himself into a pretty good 3-point shooter. There’s plenty of room for Tatum to regress and remain incredibly effective.

In the meantime, his 3-point percentage is sparkling as All-Star Weekend approaches. Tatum doesn’t expect to be selected for the 3-point contest, and he might be right. Part of his efficiency is due to selectivity. Despite starting and shooting so accurately, he’s tied for 59th in 3-pointers made. But he also hoped just to near 40% on his 3-pointers this season, and that prediction has been way off.

“If I got picked to do it, I’d definitely go,” Tatum said.

Tatum can’t control that. He can only somewhat control how many of his 3-pointers go in. But he can control how many he takes.

In that respect, maybe his talent was projectable.

“He’s a good listener,” said Pistons rookie Luke Kennard, who played with Tatum at Duke. “I know, when I was on the court with him, playing with him, I could always go up to him and talk to him about something on the court. Whether I thought I could do something better, he was listening. Next play, it was happening.”

Tatum’s next step is increasing his volume from three 3-point attempts per game. Shoot anyway when closing defenders are nearer. Mix in more pull-up 3s out of the pick-and-roll.

Why not? He has already made everything look so easy.

Report: John Paxson to remain in power with Bulls

Bulls executive John Paxson
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The Bulls are reportedly looking for a general manager to replace Gar Forman.

But the other half of GarPax – Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson – apparently isn’t going anywhere. And of course neither is president/CEO Michael Reinsdorf, son of owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

A source familiar with the situation told the Sun-Times on Wednesday that there could be multiple people hired, as the power structure is still being determined.

Paxson and Reinsdorf are still running the show, with Paxson still considered to have a valuable seat at the table no matter what title they come up for him.

Even if it appears that Paxson will be taking a background approach, the source said don’t believe it. The Reinsdorfs still have 100 percent faith in him leading the direction of this organization.

Evaluating individual members of a front office can be extremely difficult from the outside.

But Paxson didn’t cover himself in glory when he effectively declared the Bulls, after going 27-55 in 2017-18, were done tanking. Chicago went 22-60 last season and is 19-36 this season.

The Bulls need an honest assessment of where they are. They’re not good and probably not that close to being good. They have a few interesting young players – Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. But even with a high pick in this year’s draft, Chicago’s young core isn’t strong enough to assume it will rise into a quality team.

Though Paxson has supported Jim Boylen, the Bulls could probably use a new coach.

More importantly, they must understand that remaining at the bottom and securing more high picks is their best path forward. Drafting well would accelerate the process, but drafting is hard. Sometimes, you need more bites at the apple.

Of course, that will require a patience Chicago has rarely shown.

Knicks’ former player, G-League GM Allan Houston could get promotion

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There was a time when former Knicks All-Star player Allan Houston was seen as the rising front office star of the team. Since then, he has risen to assistant GM (before the Phil Jackson era), survived multiple management changes, and bounced around to different roles, most recently as the GM of the G-League Westchester Knicks.

Now he could be seeing a promotion under soon-to-arrive team president Leon Rose, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

As Leon Rose prepares for his imminent takeover, Garden constant Allan Houston has emerged as a candidate for a front office promotion, a league source told the Daily News…

According to a source, Craig Robinson, the current Knicks’ vice president of player development, has already had his responsibilities cut. Robinson, who is Michelle Obama’s brother, was hired by his Princeton buddy Steve Mills to oversee a comprehensive player development initiative…

The future of GM Scott Perry is unknown but it’s worth noting he has a strong relationship with Rose’s confidante, William Wesley.

Nobody knows exactly what the Knicks front office will look like after Rose officially takes the reins (he is still finishing up commitments to his CAA clients before coming over). We know William “World Wide Wes” Wesley will not have a role with the team, staying with CAA, but he will likely still have Rose’s ear. There will be a host of changes.

A deep house cleaning is in order in New York as the Knicks need to change their culture, not just their players. There is a lot of work to be done to develop players and build a foundation that will attract star players — right now the Knicks are not that kind of draw.  Houston apparently is going to get a chance to be part of whatever is next.

Steve Kerr says Stephen Curry will play this season once healthy

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“What’s the point? The Warriors have 12 wins, the worst record in the NBA, and are not sniffing the playoffs this season, so why bring Stephen Curry back this season at all? Why risk the injury? Why not tank?”

Steve Kerr has no use for that attitude.

Curry started practicing with the Warriors again on Wednesday. He will be re-evaluated the first week of March and could return to play soon after — and Kerr wants that. He wants Andrew Wiggins to get used to playing with Curry. Kerr defended the idea at Warriors practice on Wednesday (quotes via Monte Poole at NBC Sports Bay Area).

“It’s important for Steph and Andrew to get to know each other and to play together,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday night after practice at Chase Center. “It’s important for Steph to play without all of the guys we’ve lost who are not going to be back next year: Kevin (Durant) and Andre (Iguodala) and Shaun (Livingston). Steph in many ways has depended on those guys as sort of a giant security blanket.

“For a guy who is so skilled and talented, this has still been a team effort over the years. And he’s been blessed with some of the smartest players and most talented players in the league…

“He’s perfectly healthy. If the point is he might get hurt, what’s the point of ever playing anybody? I guess the argument is we’re not making the playoffs. So, are we not trying to entertain our fans?”

Kerr wants to build some familiarity and some momentum heading into next season. They might win a few more games, but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not going to hurt the Warriors in terms of position. Beyond that, this is a down draft — in our podcast last week, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons — so Warriors fans may want to temper expectations about how much help this draft can provide.

Curry wants to play, he’s healthy, he should play. Load management has a role in the league, but this is not it.

Target score ending likely returns to All-Star Game next year

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It seemed obvious this is the direction the NBA would go after the most competitive All-Star Game in recent memory, after it generated an incredibly positive buzz. Now we have some confirmation.

A league executive told Zach Lowe of ESPN that yes, it’s highly likely the target score idea will be back next All-Star Game.

It is a “good assumption” the NBA will use a target score to end next season’s All-Star Game after experimenting with the concept for the first time Sunday, Byron Spruell, the NBA’s president of league operations, told ESPN on Wednesday in New York…

“The intensity popped,” Spruell said. “The guys really bought in…”

If the NBA uses the target score at next season’s All Star Game, they may tinker with the rules so that the game cannot end on a free throw, Spruell said. They have already discussed taking points away from any team that commits a shooting foul on a potential winning shot instead of awarding free throws, Spruell said. They could also force that team to remove the player who committed the foul and replace him with someone else for a certain number of possessions, Spruell said.

If this were used in a regular-season NBA game, then essentially sending a player to the “penalty box” after a foul on a game-winning attempt would have some impact. In the All-Star Game, not so much. For example, if Kyle Lowry had been sent to the bench after fouling Anthony Davis, then Nick Nurse could have replaced him with Jimmy Butler or Trae Young or some other elite player. It’s not that damaging.

Removing points makes more sense.

While the Elam-style ending was a success in the All-Star Game (and next season they may bump the point total up from 24, even though it took 15 minutes of game time to play the quarter, because that is an outlier for the All-Star Game), it’s not coming to the NBA. Which means it’s not coming to the G-League either, Lowe was told. A discussion about Summer League doesn’t seem to be on the table, either.

Where could the target score ending pop up? If/when the NBA starts playing a mid-season tournament, Lowe was told — and those playoff games could be just 40 minutes. Also, the G-League showcase every December makes some sense, Lowe was told.

The target score ending was a huge hit in the All-Star Game, it only makes sense to bring it back. But for the NBA, it will remain more special occasion gimmick than a daily part of the league.