Last season, Jayson Tatum narrowly missed an All-NBA selection despite a career season that included multiple 50-point games, an All-Star appearance and a host of impressive statistical achievements.
Missing All-NBA had ramifications. Had Tatum done so, he would have earned more than $30 million extra over the life of his rookie-scale extension — a ‘Rose Rule’ provision in which less experienced players can earn up to $30 million. % of salary cap on a max deal instead of the standard 25%.
Thursday, preview an upcoming conversation with JJ Redick on his “The Old Man and the Three” podcast, Tatum opened up about his All-NBA snub — the one time, he says, when everyone’s opinion of his game really got to him.
Tatum was careful to note, with a chuckle, that running out of money wasn’t the problem.
“There are so many things that bothered me about this whole situation,” Tatum told Redick. “I think the narrative was, ‘Jayson didn’t make All-NBA, he lost $30 million.’ From this title no one will feel bad for me I still have $175 million no one will feel bad I don’t want anyone to feel bad about the money My Lifestyle hasn’t changed. It’s not about that.”
The problem, according to Tatum, was the All-NBA process. Members of the media vote on All-NBA selections, and they’re forced to put players into categories — many of which are obsolete in the modern game. Redick cited the example of Bulls star DeMar DeRozan, who might traditionally be considered a small forward but is a primary starter (and therefore a point guard of sorts) on the Bulls. Tatum is in a similar situation with the Celtics. Marcus Smart is the leader, but Tatum has a 32% utilization rate, 13 percentage points more than Smart, which also makes him a de facto leader.
Even with broad distinctions like ‘Backs’, ‘Forwards’ and ‘Centres’, an inferior player could lose to a better one simply because there were too many good forwards and not enough good defenders. Both Redick and Tatum said they endorse a system in which the NBA’s top 15 players are All-NBA, which would simplify the process for everyone involved.
Ask members of the media, and many would agree with Tatum’s overall take — most don’t want players’ salaries tied to their All-NBA votes. Players and coaches have a much deeper knowledge of the game through countless hours of film study and playing experience (and, of course, pure skill).
Speaking slowly — and choosing his words carefully — Tatum noted that a member of the media said he didn’t vote for Tatum because he didn’t like his photo selection.
“The fact that someone could have that thought and basically cost someone $30 million…I think that needs to change,” Tatum said. “There are no set criteria for media voters who they should vote on. It’s like everything based on opinion. …
“I think there’s just a little too much at stake for that.”
Still, the bigger issue was recognition, and Tatum pointed out what he believes to be a kind of double standard.
“For example, last year I averaged 26-7-4,” Tatum said, referring to points, rebounds and assists. “And I’m sure you can’t find a single person in the media who said I had a monster year. Seventh-seeded, two games over .500, whatever, I wasn’t not an MVP candidate or something. But then there are guys who average, I don’t know, 19 and 10, 19-10-4, and you go on TV and it’s like ‘ They have a monster season.’
“I talked to my mom at home, and I was like, ‘Mom, I should probably be an average of 30 and we’ll have to be one of the two top seeds for anybody to come on TV and say [I’m] having a freak year.
Tatum brings up a nuanced conversation. On the one hand, expectations are high for Tatum because Tatum can (and has) achieved great things. With all due respect to Aaron Nesmith – a perfectly solid prospect in his own right – no one expects him to become an MVP-caliber talent. Tatum was the best player among the Eastern Conference finalists. He led the Celtics to the playoffs in an Eastern Conference Finals in his rookie season. He could one day be the NBA MVP. The expectations of a great basketball player are inherently ridiculous when compared to the expectations of an NBA player for whom a 19-point performance is a good performance.
So to some extent, calling a 26-7-4 a monster year for Tatum would actually be inaccurate. For Tatum, a “monster” season likely looks like what James Harden achieved in his 2017-18 MVP run – 30.6 points and 8.8 assists per game.
But that shouldn’t erase what Tatum achieved last season, or be an excuse to downplay how good he was.
Again, the conversation is nuanced. Tatum might be wise to consider what it means that 26-7-4 equals his run – a grown-up kid want to be Kobe Bryant has a chance to achieve everything Bryant has achieved. Members of the media might be advised to consider a variety of factors, including what Tatum is asked to do every night and how hard it is to score 26 points per game. The NBA would be wise to ask why it falls to members of the media to decide how much a player earns, further complicating an already strained relationship between players and reporters.
The good news for fans? All they have to do is take advantage of what Tatum is doing. After all, it’s Wyc Grousbeck’s money.
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