My guess is two of the players about whom I’m going to get the most pushback in terms of what slot they’re in are Jayson Tatum
, or seventh to ninth top player in the league) and Joel Embiid
(1B, fifth or sixth), especially given both having seasons that will place them in the top five, and in Embiid’s case, possibly at the top of the MVP voting.
And I’m here to tell you there is literally (well, almost literally, but nobody is going ’61 Wilt or anything) nothing they could have done this regular season to move any higher. Because the questions they have to answer, and the tests they have to pass, happen in May and June, not January and February.
I’m not even saying either player has shirked or shrunk in playoffs past. But they haven’t quite
Somehow, a narrative has developed that last season’s NBA Finals weren’t actually that close, but with a chance to go up 3-1 at home, Boston
had a five-point lead with 6:30 left in Game 4. And the Celtics couldn’t close it out and didn’t win another game from there. A big reason was the degree to which the Warriors
had seemingly (and finally) figured out Tatum, turning him into much more of an isolation scorer than the playmaking offensive engine who helps the Celtics purr. Over the final two games, he made only 16 of 38 shots, with nine turnovers against only 11 assists.
To put a point on it, the title was there to be won, but Boston’s offense bogged down. With Tatum the primary driver of that offense, he takes a good chunk of the blame. Maybe if the late-game offensive foibles hadn’t plagued the Celtics earlier in the postseason — they made harder work of the series against the Bucks
as a result of similar breakdowns — or across the regular season wherein the Celtics were one of the worst-performing teams in the clutch of the last few decades, the disappointment would stick to him less.