Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

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

4 Comments

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)…

image

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

image

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

image

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.

It may be moot, but Kawhi Leonard now eligible for super-max contract with Spurs

Getty Images
2 Comments

Early on in the Kawhi Leonard saga with the Spurs, there was a sense in some (even many) quarters of the NBA world that the two sides would work things out. Why? Because the Spurs can offer Leonard way more money than anybody else — $221 million. That’s thanks to the “Kevin Durant rule” added to the most recent CBA that allows the team that drafted a player who meets the criteria (twice All-NBA, MVP, etc.) to get 35 percent of the salary cap at a younger age.

Money did not solve this problem — Leonard and the Spurs are farther apart than ever.

That said, Leonard did just become eligible on Sunday for that massive payday. From Bobby Marks of ESPN.

Kawhi Leonard is now super max eligible (third year anniversary of the contract signed on July 16, 2015) to receive a five-year $221 million extension from the Spurs. If Leonard is traded, the most he could receive in an extension (six months after the trade) would be $108 million over four-years (starting in 2019-20). Leonard would be eligible to sign a five-year $190 million contract as a free agent with the team acquiring him or four-years $141 million with a team that has cap space. Leonard would not be super max eligible as a free agent with the new team acquiring him even if he earned All-NBA honors in 2018-19.

Leonard is still trying to force a trade, and that remains at a standstill.

Where do things stand? Everyone involved is waiting for someone else to blink

San Antonio is waiting for the L.A. Lakers or Philadelphia (or anyone else, such as Toronto) to make what they see as an acceptable offer. Those other teams are holding out their best trade pieces — the Lakers with both Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, the Sixers with Markelle Fultz, etc. — waiting for the Spurs to accept less, closer to what recent big name player trades (DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George) went for. Complicating it all is Leonard’s inexperienced management team, which does not have long-standing relationships with teams, has communicated different things at times, and teams just do not know if they can trust them.

There are conflicting reports and I’ve heard conflicting things from sources, down to the most fundamental issues: Does Leonard want to be a Laker, or does he not want to play with LeBron? Whatever the answer, every day this drags out the Spurs lose leverage.

Even so, this could drag out into training camp. Or longer.

Grizzlies sign second-round pick Jevon Carter to multiyear contract

Associated Press
1 Comment

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies have signed second-round pick Jevon Carter to a multiyear deal.

Terms of the contract announced Sunday were not disclosed, but Carter himself confirmed the deal.

Carter has impressed at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas and in Utah. His dogged, aggressive defense has slowed players — Trae Young had some of his worst games against Carter — and on offense his game has improved, including him dropping 26 points on the Jazz recently.

Carter was taken with the No. 32 pick after winning the Naismith defensive player of the year last season at West Virginia. The point guard was second in the nation with 3.03 steals per game and is the Mountaineers’ career leader in that category.

“Ray Allen from long distance” with chip shot to save par at American Century Classic

Leave a comment

“Ray Allen from long distance, how many times have we said that?”

Ray Allen had a good weekend at the American Century Championships, the former NBA sharpshooter and future Hall of Famer finished third in the celebrity golf event. One of the reasons he was there, this chip shot on 13 Sunday.

Former Cowboy’s quarterback Tony Romo won the event, with former MLB pitcher Mark Mulder was second.

LeBron James sits courtside for Lakers’ Summer League win

Getty Images
2 Comments

There are two, maybe three guys playing for the Lakers in Summer League likely to be sharing a locker room with LeBron James next season — Isaac Bonga and Josh Hart, with maybe Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and/or Alex Caruso. Only Hart could see the court much.

LeBron was still courtside on Sunday for a quarterfinal game at Summer League, showing his support and being a good teammate. He gave Hart a hug on the court. Brandon Ingram stopped by and talked with LeBron for a bit.

LeBron watched the Lakers continue their strong run through the Summer League, racking up a 101-78 win. LeBron was into it, when Mykhailiuk took a shot midway through the first quarter LeBron yelled, ‘cash only!”  The shot was nothing but net.

The Lakers are on to the Summer League semifinals. Los Angeles won the Vegas Summer League last year.