It is no secret that the success of the Boston Celtics is largely contingent upon the play of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, both of which have produced their fair share of larger-than-life moments in their young careers.
With a 28-25 record this season, good for ninth in the Eastern Conference, however, everything is not all peaches and cream in the New England area. Brown and Tatum have received criticism for the team’s shortcomings, though their stats indicate that they are obvious All-Stars.
So, in a situation where each player’s value is being questioned, it is important to understand where they stack up against the rest of the talent in their position across the league.
A newly anointed All-Star, Jayson Tatum became an immediate contributor after being selected with the third-overall pick in the 2017 draft, averaging 13.9 points and 5.0 rebounds in his rookie salvo. Now, in his fifth season, those numbers have jumped to 26.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 4.0 assists with the 37th-best Player Efficiency Rating.
As a small forward that can pivot to power forward depending on the lineup, Tatum is unfortunately in the same category as LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom are mainstays atop the list of player rankings. The former Duke Blue Devil instead finds himself somewhere in a cluttered second tier of stars featuring Paul George, DeMar DeRozan, Jimmy Butler, and Khris Middleton, all of which offer their unique characteristics.
Middleton is the best distance shooter of the bunch, and although he has exploded for 50 points in one game before, he typically defers to the greatness of Giannis Antetokounmpo and does not attract the opposing team’s best defender. Jimmy Butler and DeMar DeRozan are both mid-range merchants that can finish through contact around the time, with the former also playing a large role in facilitating his teammates and the latter often taking over the scoring burden late in games.
Paul George is the closest replica of Tatum on this list, both for his silky-smooth dribbling, versatile scoring, and switchability on the defensive end. Before going down with an injury after 26 games, George had been averaging 24.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 5.5 assists without his running mate in Kawhi Leonard. George has had the more impressive career and is probably slightly ahead of Tatum in a vacuum, but not by much.
If George is given the edge, Tatum is somewhere between four and seven in the small forward rankings— because of his age and talent, however, he would be favored over his peers by most franchises. Go ahead and slide Tatum in as the fourth-best small forward in today’s NBA.
Like his teammate, Jaylen Brown is versatile offensively and defensively and can play the two or three while also serving as the team’s primary ball-handler. A former third-overall pick himself, Brown arrived on the scene one year before Tatum and is having another career year, averaging 24.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.0 assists.
With great length and freakish athleticism, Brown has been a walking problem for opponents since he stepped on the NBA floor. He is also regarded as a willing and physical defender that is capable of stopping the ball or stepping into the lane to disrupt passes, both of which are invaluable in a fast-paced, perimeter-centric game.
There are not many pure shooting guards in today’s game, with many of the point guards masquerading as two’s and lots of two’s serving as auxiliary forwards. Brown is somewhere between a pure two and three, though, for the sake of this list, he has to be stacked against the other shooting guards, whether or not they are positional purists.
The best shooting guard in the league right now is Devin Booker, who has the Phoenix Suns poised for the top seed in the Western Conference with a 41-9 record. James Harden may seem like the most obvious candidate, but he is serving as the point guard in Brooklyn— Kyrie Irving, when he plays, is the two-guard, but since he is only present for 50% of his team’s games, he is being excluded from this list.
Just behind Booker are Donovan Mitchell, Bradley Beal, and Zach LaVine; the third tier would include names like Anthony Edwards, Desmond Bane, and C.J. McCollum, all of which Brown is better than— thus, he belongs somewhere in the second grouping.
With Beal having a down year (and not looking that interested in playing either), he has to be pushed to the bottom of the quartet; team success is an important measure in sports, and because of how impressive both the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls have been this season, Mitchell and LaVine can go just ahead of Brown, while he can slide into the fourth spot, just like Tatum.
The Boston Celtics Elite Duo?
Although the tandem of Brown and Tatum can be frustrating at times, players with their talent, and especially their age, do not just grow on trees. The Boston Celtics have two elite players in the game on their squad, both of which are perennial All-Star candidates, and they need to continue to exhaust their options building a supporting cast before even considering splitting up their stars.
It is incumbent upon the Brown-Tatum pair that they live up to the moment in close games, and if they do, Boston will not finish the season behind eight teams in the East. Not with two top-four players in their position.