Can Jayson Tatum reach the same heights as Larry Bird?

  • 7.05.2021 00:16:19

Jayson Tatum has been on an absolute tear lately and has single handedly dragged the Boston Celtics to a couple of victories in the past couple of weeks.

Tatum is averaging 32 points per game over his past 11 contests, and has proved time and again that he is one of the most dynamic scorers in the NBA.

Tatum looked disengaged at times when things weren't going well for the Celtics earlier in the season, but he has been a monster lately, and has been the driving force in the Celtics late season surge up the standings.

Not only have his scoring efforts increased lately, but so has his rebounding, assists per game, and overall defensive engagement too. With Tatum playing like this, it gives the Celtics real hope that they may be able make some noise in the postseason.

Tatum's most recent accomplishment in his hot streak was a 60 point outburst last night against the San Antonio Spurs. With this outing, Tatum tied Larry Bird for the most points scored in a single game by a Celtics player, and he probably would have passed him had the officials made the right call and given him an and-one basket with four seconds left in overtime.

It was one of the most impressive scoring efforts the NBA has seen this season.

Is it too early to compare Jayson Tatum to Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird?

With Tatum already tying Bird's franchise mark in just his fourth season, it begs the question; does Tatum have the potential to be the Celtics next Bird? It admittedly may be a premature question, and to some old-school Celtics fans, comparing anyone to Bird is a treasonous act.

And yet Tatum might just be that good, as he has shown us numerous times since his arrival in Boston.

In order to give us some idea of how similar the two players are, let's take a look at Tatum and Bird's numbers over their first four seasons. While Bird was thrust right into the starting lineup in his rookie season, Tatum was eased into the action more gradually, although Gordon Hayward's season-ending injury six minutes into his rookie season certainly forced into him more action than expected.

So whereas Bird's numbers continue to gradually increase over his first four seasons, Tatum's have increased at a much faster rate.

Let's start with scoring. Bird was basically a 20 point per game scorer his entire career, while Tatum took a little longer to develop into the scoring machine he is now.

By his fourth season, Bird was averaging 23.6 points per game, while Tatum is currently averaging 26.4 with eight games left to play on the season. Both took a large volume of shots per game, but Bird's efficiency was a little higher than Tatum's as he was shooting 50 percent in his third and fourth seasons, while Tatum has hovered around 45 percent for most of his career.

Bird also was an excellent rebounder and passer to go along with his scoring exploits. He averaged a double-double in three of his first four seasons in points and rebounds, and the season he didn't reach that feat he averaged 9.9 rebounds per game.

Bird also averaged at least five assists per game in three of these seasons, as he was the main facilitator of the Boston Celtics offense to go along with his scoring prowess. While Tatum's averages don't put him in the same company as Bird, we've seen a recent uptick in his rebounding and passing that have shown he has shades of Bird's game in him.

Tatum has put up eight double-doubles in points and rebounds in his last 12 games, whereas he had only had four double-doubles in the 45 games beforehand. Tatum also showed us how good of a passer he can be during last season's playoff run where he averaged five assists per game, and while he had initially regressed as a passer to begin the season, he has gotten his assist total up to 4.4 per game on the season.

Defensively, it's clear the Bird is far superior to Tatum. Bird's defensive rating, which measures how many points a player would let up per 100 possessions, was never above 100, whereas Tatum's has been over 100 each season.

Bird thrived as a defender in just about every situation, while Tatum is very good at reading passing lanes and playing off-ball defense, but does struggle occasionally as an on-ball defender.

Bird also won a championship in his second season, giving him a winning pedigree that Tatum just doesn't have yet. Tatum has been to the Eastern Conference Finals twice already but has come up short both times.

Admittedly, Bird probably had more talent around him than Tatum had and currently has, but Bird was the focal point of those championship teams, and if Tatum wants to reach the same level as Larry Legend, he will need to step up in a similar way as his career progresses.

After an in-depth look at the numbers, it's clear that Bird was the better player of the two throughout their first four seasons. You can make a case that Tatum is a better scorer than Bird, but there's a good chance you won't win that argument.

However, the potential for Tatum to reach Bird's pedigree is certainly there. Tatum already has tied one of Bird's prestigious records, and he's only in his fourth season.

We have seen over this recent stretch from Tatum a resemblance of Bird's game, with his scoring prowess, rebounding ability, and his willingness to get his teammates involved in the game.

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