Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown hanging 30+ apiece on the Milwaukee Bucks showed us why the mid-range shot still is – and will continue to be – essential to a strong NBA offense.
I’m not a big brain analytics guy, but I can tell you that the greatest misconception of the past decade is the idea that mid-range shots were invalidated by math. Rather, the math highlighted the value of three-pointers and free throws in ways we hadn’t seen before. The Boston Celtics’ offense has been notoriously mediocre for long stretches in every Brad Stevens season, but not because they shot too many or too little threes. You could pick apart any number of reasons as to why this is, but my greatest point of emphasis has always been shot selection.
Jayson Tatum in particular has a way of making it more difficult than necessary to score. As recently as Boston’s two ugly preseason games, Tatum was trying too hard to shake and bake in the mid-range to create space for inefficient shot attempts. Against the Bucks, we saw something different.
The game-winning bank shot is drawing all the Paul Pierce comps for Jayson Tatum, but this one was positively Pierce-like. Back in day, Boston’s late-game offense was Pierce getting a small, backing him down to his spot and burying a turnaround. Here’s Tatum late-game last night: pic.twitter.com/oDxoE09xTJ
— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) December 24, 2020
This is all that an isolation possession needs to be: clean and simple. Jaylen had a ton of these as well, although it’s something he’d somewhat mastered already.
With Kemba Walker out and Gordon Hayward replaced, the Celtics’ offense needed to adapt. They leaned on isolation offense last year to an almost damning extent, and that was by design. The Jays, Kemba, and Hayward were well capable of creating for themselves on offense and it worked out about as well as it could — an Eastern Conference Finals appearance that fell short. I don’t blame anyone who insisted on ball movement as an answer, but I think it’s important to recognize that they were an iso-heavy team for good reason: they were good in isolation.
The iso plays are still there, but the shell around the team’s core is different. Tristan Thompson setting 30 screens on every possession will create a lot of space for the Jays and Smart to run the offense. Jeff Teague (deep breath) is a bench player who can handle the ball and score. Daniel Theis looked like he hit a new gear in terms of quickness, while also showing a much quicker trigger on a couple catch-and-shoot threes. The Jays have taken strides in their ability to see the floor and pass. The ball should move more this year, although more due to necessity than anything else.
Mid-range shots are fine and good and anyone who tells you they’re mathematically bad is wrong. Heavily contested, late-clock 15-footers are not ideal, but Tatum bullying smaller players is a fantastic development. He did it against Tyler Herro in the playoffs, but the Celtics stopped abusing mismatches in typical Celtics fashion on their way out. Hopefully this season is the meaningful step forward that this game indicates.