Jayson Tatum didn't make the leap into NBA superstardom last season that some expected out of him after a magical playoff run in 2018. Still, Tatum flashed his potential and managed to be a consistent source of offense on a maddeningly inconsistent Celtics team during the 2019-20 campaign.
Now that Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have gone and signed with Eastern Conference rivals, the Celtics will lean on Tatum for more than just his scoring. He'll have to defend at a higher level, make plays for others and lead both on and off the court.
If he can improve all aspects of his game while maintaining the efficiency he's displayed on the offensive end, he'll probably find himself higher on next year's Sports Illustrated Top 100 list.
This year, however, he finds himself at No. 35.
It might be helpful to compartmentalize the version of Jayson Tatum we saw last season from the player he could be one day. That isn't to deny the existence of the former; Tatum's mystifying efforts to become a mid-post specialist proved to be a failure on every level. If that is the crux of his game, he will level out as a player without so much as sniffing stardom. That said, cleaning up his shot profile even slightly would go a long way. The 21-year-old has a lot of the qualities teams look for in a centerpiece prospect: three-level scoring, strong defensive fundamentals, positional fluidity-Tatum even has an NBA proof of concept with his performance in the 2018 playoffs. You can see all the pieces, if only Tatum could crystallize his game a bit. There have been too many nights where Tatum becomes just another guy: a positive contributor, but a forgettable one. Some of that was the byproduct of Boston's ensemble last season. Some other part stems from the way Tatum has operated thus far. Once that changes, so will his status within the league.
Tatum is the highest ranking Celtic so far in these rankings. Marcus Smart came in at No. 82, Jaylen Brown at 68 and Gordon Hayward at 59. Kemba Walker's standing has yet to be revealed, so he should figure to be in the Top 20 at the least.
This season should tell us plenty about what the Celtics have in their core of young stars. For Tatum and Brown, they have a chance to prove that they deserve to be talked about in the same breath as the league's elite. If they can't elevate their games in a big way in 2019-20, the Celtics' season, as well as their future, will start to look real bleak.
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Jayson Tatum cracks Top 40 in SI's Top 100 NBA player ranking originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston