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How bright is Jayson Tatum’s NBA future?
The Celtics star already is one of the league’s best players and earned First-Team All-NBA honors in 2021-22 while leading Boston to the NBA Finals at age 24. But he’s not the only superstar under 25, as Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic has made three First-Team All-NBA squads before turning 24.
So, who has more upside: Tatum or Doncic? ESPN’s Tim Bontemps polled 15 NBA coaches, scouts and executives on several league-related questions, including this one: Who will be the best player in the NBA five years from now?
Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo was the leader with seven votes, while Doncic was second with six votes. But Tatum also received two votes, and an Eastern Conference scout made a compelling case for choosing Tatum over Doncic — mostly focused on Tatum’s defensive prowess.
“Just because of the defensive component,” the scout told Bontemps. “Luka is a stud, and you don’t need to be a defensive lockdown guy to be an All-NBA player like he is, but having Tatum’s self-creation ability, his physical tools and his ability to give you defensive versatility, that’s pretty special.
“Luka did a hell of a job carrying that team this year, but the two-way wing creator/scorer is the ultimate archetype, and Tatum is that at 24 years old, and just got that team to the Finals. I just like his ability to give you something defensively that Luka likely never will be able to.”
While Tatum is a brilliant scorer and a rapidly-improving playmaker, he’s also an underrated defender. The 6-foot-8, 210 forward earned one First-Team All-Defense vote and two Second-Team All-Defense votes last season while playing a key role on the No. 1 defense in the NBA.
Even if Doncic improves as a defender, Tatum will always have more defensive upside thanks to his length and ability to guard multiple positions.
The 2021-22 Celtics reinforced the value of defense, as their strength on that end was a big reason why they reached the NBA Finals. Tatum was essential to Boston’s defensive success, and his two-way prowess could help him blossom into a more complete player than Doncic when all is said and done.