Mannix: Why Jayson Tatum is primed to ‘go off' vs. Cavs

Mannix: Why Jayson Tatum is primed to ‘go off' vs. Cavs originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Celtics are in the middle of their Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Jayson Tatum's low scoring numbers are the subject of criticism. With Tatum averaging 21.7 points across his first seven games of the 2024 playoffs, NBC Sports Boston's Chris Mannix sees one possible explanation for the five-time All-Star's slow start.

"Taking a look at the usage [rate] here, these are insane numbers," Mannix said on Saturday night's Celtics Pregame Live. "T.J. McConnell has a higher usage rate than Jayson Tatum in these playoffs. These are wild numbers."

Across all playoff teams, Tatum currently ranks 19th with a usage rate of 26.7 percent. Comparing his rate to McConnell's 27.1 percent as a defensive-minded player, Mannix sees a fast solution to increase Tatum's scoring -- get the ball in his hands more often.

"T.J. McConnell is a defensive guy. Like, he's brought in to be pesky, be a playmaker -- he has a higher usage rate than Tatum," Mannix added. "Khris Middleton -- I know he had more touches because Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and Damian [Lillard] were injured -- should not have a higher usage rate than Jayson Tatum."

New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson currently sits atop the playoff usage rate rankings at 36.8 percent, with Tatum's teammate Jaylen Brown also sitting above him at 32.4 percent. Seeing an opportunity for Tatum to get more involved, Mannix confidently made a bold prediction regarding Saturday night's Game 3.

"This game, it's all going to change," Mannix told his co-hosts. "Tom [Giles], [Brian] Scalabrine, Eddie [House], get your popcorn ready -- this is the game that it changes for Jayson Tatum. Game 6 of the 2022 Conference Finals where Tatum went off against the Bucks, Game 7 last year against Philadelphia -- we're going to be talking about Game 3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers for Jayson Tatum because he is going to go off."

Tatum has often found a way to come through when his team needs him the most. In Game 6 of the 2022 conference semifinals against the Bucks, Tatum dropped 46 points. In the 2023 conference finals against the 76ers, Tatum willed his way to 51 points. Now, after the C's Game 2 loss at home, Mannix believes Tatum will once again ascend into superstardom.

"They are going to get him the ball and he's going to make plays with the ball early," Mannix said. "The other crazy stat that I was looking up going into this game is that when Jayson Tatum takes two dribbles and shoots, he is shooting 80 percent. When he takes one dribble and shoots, he is shooting 43 percent. When he is dribbling three times or more in these playoffs, he is shooting less than 20 percent."

Doubling down on his confidence in Tatum -- with an over/under on points of 27.5 -- Mannix calls it the easiest bet on earth to go over, adding that he believes Tatum will score well over 30 points, if not 40.