Jayson Tatum may have played his last game of the 2019-20 season on March 10, but it was another feather in the cap of one of the NBA’s biggest breakout players. Tatum scored 30 points and tied his season-high of four steals as the Celtics beat the Pacers by three in Indy. If the season ever does resume, the 43-21 Celtics are a major playoff threat.
The 2017 NBA Draft
Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge took Tatum with the No. 3 pick in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft. Consensus No. 1 and No. 2 picks Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball went off the board quickly. But De’Aaron Fox or Josh Jackson planned to go next.
Mock drafts at the time ranked Tatum somewhere in the fourth to the sixth range, but most critics agreed third was higher than they expected for Tatum. The most prominent (and loudest) of these critics? Fox Sports 1 analyst Nick Wright.
The TV and radio show host began the disrespect early as he published his top five players of the draft, a list excluding Tatum. Luckily for Boston, Ainge didn’t read Twitter and happily drafted the forward. Wright responded over the next two years, retroactively moving Tatum up his fictional 2017 draft board. In February 2020, Wright even agreed that Tatum was “a half leap from being a star.”
Jayson Tatum defies the critics
The faint praise of Tatum barely seems necessary as he continued to win games and set personal records up until the NBA season shut-down in mid-March. Fortunately, Wright has all the time in the world to think of new ways to complain about Ainge and the Celtics. When Wright isn’t hating on the Celtics, he’s finding every way to hype up LeBron James and the Lakers.
Fact: James is a first-ballot Hall of Famer — likely unanimously. He’s racked up four MVP awards and the occasional record. But James is one of the oldest players in the NBA. We’re past 15 years of watching one of the two greatest ever to play the game.
James doesn’t need praise from a talking head on FS1. Tatum is still young, and his reputation is still up in the air. It’s a shame to see critics intentionally turn a blind eye to his magic on the court.
The future of the Celtics
Fortunately, Boston fans don’t care. The Celtics entered the season projected to win 47 or 48 games, and they’re almost there with another 18 to play. Every Celtic is 30 or younger. If they don’t get it done this year, they have another half-decade with the current core. The “biggest” story of the modern NBA could also have a future in Boston, so there’s plenty to feel good about for Celtics fans.
No one is exactly sure why Wright chooses to waste so much time downplaying Tatum’s potential. Whether he wanted to stick to his pre-draft rankings or honestly doesn’t see Tatum’s ability, it’s interesting to see how wrong one sports analyst can be. Although Wright seems to have softened and admits Tatum is skilled (if not “a star”), we’ll all see if he changes his mind again when the NBA returns.
Perhaps it will take James’ retirement for Wright to find a new star to support. But young Bronny James is only a few years from the NBA Draft. Despite James’ caginess when asked about playing alongside his son, he’s a man who loves basketball and loves his family. If there’s any way to make it happen, he will. Perhaps we’ll need to wait even longer for Wright to give Tatum his due, but we won’t hold our breath.