Jayson Tatum's candid comments about MVP race highlight his growth

Jayson Tatum's candid comments about MVP race highlight his growth originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Jayson Tatum is confident enough to believe he's the best player in the NBA. But he's also not consumed by the debate surrounding that label.

After the Boston Celtics' 129-112 win over the Chicago Bulls on Thursday, Tatum was asked what he thinks should define an NBA MVP amid recent chatter about where Tatum stands in the conversation.

"Those guys are putting up ridiculous numbers every night and doing a lot for their team. I have no problem with those guys being the leaders of the MVP race," Tatum responded, referring to the likes of Nikola Jokic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic, who currently have better MVP odds than the Celtics star.

"I wasn't saying that I needed to be first. I just had a problem with some people on TV saying that the reason why I won't win this year is because of something that happened two years ago. That was my only disconnect."

Aside from the misguided thought that Tatum's poor performance in the 2022 NBA Finals should be held against him in the larger narrative of the 2024 NBA MVP race, another factor working against Tatum is his dip in scoring: He's averaging 27.1 points per game this season after putting up 30.1 per night in 2022-23. But that's a byproduct of a more balanced Boston attack that includes fellow All-Star Jaylen Brown, new additions Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday and an improved Derrick White.

"I won't have the points per game that the other three or four guys will," Tatum said. "But I think the voters are smart enough to understand the dynamic of our team, essentially having to do less scoring maybe on certain nights, but still impact(ing) the game in a lot of ways to ensure that we win every single night, that we're in first place, that we're trying to be the best team, that everybody on the team feels valued, right?

"That's it's not just about me. Because I'm gonna need everybody down the stretch; we're gonna need each other for what we're trying to do, to try to win a championship."

Tatum insisted prior to the season that winning a title was his primary goal, and he's backing up that talk. His 19.4 shot attempts per game are his fewest since the 2019-20 season, but his assists per game (4.8) are at a career high. The 25-year-old admitted it took him some time to realize higher scoring totals don't always equate to wins, but he's clearly gotten there.

"I mean, yeah, I'm human, right? It's a process," Tatum said. "I was First-Team All-NBA last the two years, averaged 30 (points per game). Like the human side, yeah, you want continue to average more every year, you see other guys putting up 30-plus a night, you know you could do that. But part of growing is understanding what we have, and this window, trying to maximize that and uplift the guys around me.

"I think it just took some time for me to understand, like, I know I can score 30 a night. I did that. But that's not necessarily what this team needs on a nightly basis. So, taking that step back in a sense for us to be better.

"I've done everything but win a championship. So, that's the whole thing. That's all I'm gonna be judged on at this point in my career. So, just doing what it takes to help us get to that point."

Tatum may not have the high-level stats of his MVP competitors, but his team-first mindset is a big reason why the Celtics have the NBA's best record (44-12) and a seven-game lead atop the Eastern Conference. His maturity into a two-way star who can impact winning in multiple ways shouldn't be understated, and it could be the key to Boston raising Banner 18.