Jayson Tatum’s Exceptional Rookie Season by the Numbers

There’s no denying that there is something special about Jayson Tatum. His distinguished Rookie season has led many to believe that the former Duke star could wind up as a top player in the NBA. But just how good was he in his first campaign? Good enough to compare to NBA superstar LeBron James’ rookie year metrics.

I know how crazy this will sound. Who in their right mind would even consider comparing an unproven 20-year-old to arguably the greatest basketball player to ever live? Before you all get out the torches and sharpen your pitchforks let me explain.

With some recent articles floating around social media making the case that Taco Jay is ‘overhyped’ I felt the need to come to his defense. There is no defense stronger than proving to the world that the 20-year-old talent put up comparative advanced metrics to the King in their respective rookie seasons. Let’s dive into the numbers.

Jayson Tatum Advanced Metrics for 2017-18 Season via Basketball Reference
LeBron James Advanced Metrics for 2003-04 Season via Basketball Reference

Player Efficiency Rating and Usage Percentage

The first metric that strikes my eye is each player’s PER (Player Efficiency Rating) vs their USG% (Usage Percent).

To clarify- the PER sums up all of a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns the per-minute rating of a player’s performance. The USG% figure refers to the percentage of team plays used by a player while on the court.

Jayson Tatum finished his rookie campaign with a respectable 15.3 PER against a modest 19.5 USG% in 2438 minutes played.

LeBron James finished his rookie campaign with a slightly higher 18.3 PER against a MUCH higher 28.2 USG% in 3122 minutes played.

Simply put- Jayson Tatum was only slightly less efficient than James while receiving significantly fewer touches and play calls. This comes as a testament to Tatum’s tremendously efficient play style exhibited throughout his first season in the league. Entering as a ball stopping ISO heavy talent, Tatum’s biggest question marks were his outside shooting and efficiency in an NBA offense that would be predicated around ball movement. Tatum responded by shooting 43.3% from three (good for 8th in the league) and quickly proved he can do what is needed for the betterment of the team. His modest 19.5 USG% reveals that he was not the ‘ball stopper’ that he was predicted to be. In fact, it is Tatum’s malleability and selflessness that has quickly become his biggest strength heading into his 2nd season. His ability to get off whatever shot he desires at will coupled with the basketball IQ to know when to give up the rock bodes well for his future outlook.

True Shooting Percentage, Total Rebound Percentage and Win Shares

Credit: Christopher Evans

Jayson Tatum actually tops LeBron James in multiple advanced metrics in their respective rookie seasons. First, let’s clarify what each of these statistics means.

True Shooting Percentage (TS%) measures a player’s efficiency at shooting the ball. It considers total points scored over all field goals made including free throws, 2-point field goals and 3 pointers plus free throws attempted. It is the most accurate measurement of a player’s overall shooting efficiency.

Total Rebound Percentage (TR%) is a statistic used to gauge how effective a player is at gaining possession of the ball after a missed field goal or free throw. Essentially the stat measures the percentage of missed shots the individual rebounds while on the court.

Win Shares (WS) is a bit of a complex metric but in a nutshell it estimates the number of wins a player produces for his team. It is essentially a measurement of how important the player Is to his team’s success.

How Does Tatum Stack Up?

David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Jayson Tatum’s impressive rookie PER shines through when looking at his 58.6% true shooting percentage. Comparatively, LeBron finished his rookie campaign with a 48.8% TS%, nearly 10% lower than that of Tatum’s. This is directly correlated to Tatum’s shot taking decisions. He very rarely takes tough shots and doesn’t force anything. With everything he does, he always appears to be comfortable and confident, as shown by his 49% shooting from two and 43% from three for the season.

Jayson Tatum finished his rookie campaign averaging five rebounds per contest. He accomplished a 9% TR%, 1.4% higher than James’. LeBron has gone on to average an impressive 7.4 rebounds per game for his career. Taking Tatum’s rookie season under consideration, there is no reason the 6’8” forward can’t accomplish the same if not better than the King in this department. This measurement exemplifies Tatum’s hustle and court awareness, ultimately highlighting his impressive basketball IQ.

The final measurement that caught my eye in this comparison was Win Shares plus Win Shares per 48 minutes. LeBron James played 684 minutes more than Jayson Tatum in his rookie season. Yet it was Tatum who held a higher WS metric. Essentially, Jayson Tatum individually produced two more wins for the Celtics than LeBron for the Cavs in significantly less playing time. Taking it a step further, if that measurement is rounded out to 48 minutes (the length of a full game) Tatum still outshines James with .139 WS to .078, respectively.

What does this mean? According to this metric one can make a legitimate argument that Jayson Tatum was more important to the Celtics his rookie year than LeBron James was to the Cavaliers.

So, is Jayson Tatum ‘Overhyped’?

Getty Images

Jayson Tatum finished 3rd in the Rookie of the Year race and landed himself a spot on the NBA All Rookie 1st Team. After All-Star teammate Gordon Hayward went down, he was thrown into the spotlight a mere five minutes into his first NBA game against (ironically) LeBron James. For the season Tatum averaged 13.9 points, 5 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per contest as a 19-year-old. The team needed him to step up in the playoffs with devastating injuries to valuable teammates, and he responded by leading the entire roster in scoring through 19 playoff games. His 18.5 points per game scoring average got him within 1 point of tying basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most points scored by a rookie in the playoffs in NBA history. Some believe that Tatum will end up being the best rookie to come out of his draft class. Doubters will shake their heads and say the guy has already peaked. That he won’t get much better than he is now.

What do I believe?

I believe that the sky is the limit for Jayson Tatum. He has every tool in his arsenal necessary to become one of the NBA’s elite. I would say he is arguably the most gifted talent that the Boston Celtics have drafted since Larry Bird (sorry Paul). The situation could not be more perfect for Tatum. With the system in place around him he will be provided with every opportunity to maximize his talents and realize his full potential. Now, he’s just got to go out and prove to the world that he can do it.

Photo: Getty Images


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