The 2018 season was a dud year for the Boston Celtics that raised questions around the league about just how good their young core really was. Jayson Tatum didn't take the leap forward everyone expected after he looked like a star in the making during the playoffs his rookie season, and Jaylen Brown was unable to find his groove all season between injuries and an inconsistent rotation. When rumors emerged that Brown was looking for over $100 million during contract negotiations, many fans and pundits alike fired up the ESPN trade machine to see who Boston could land for Brown, because there's no way he's worth that much.
But all that talk has completely dissipated in the months since opening tip-off, and for good reason. And after Brown and Tatum combined for 64 against the Cavaliers on Friday, in the same week Tatum dropped a career-high 39 against Charlotte and Brown shot 10-13 for 30 points on Christmas, it's become clear that Boston's young pair of wings are coming into their own in a big way.
The two represent Boston's present and future. Their skillsets complement each other almost perfectly; Tatum thrives off jumpers and has the making of a sniper from deep, shooting 36 percent on 7 attempts per game from three, while Brown has tightened his handle enough that he can use his strength to force his way into the paint against any wing smaller than he is-- and that would be most of them, considering he's 6'7", 220.
That much has been obvious since the pair came to Boston. But their leaps this year can be seen through their efficiency. Brown's 62 percent true shooting percentage is by far a career high, and Tatum's PER currently sits at 18.4, nearly three full points higher than last season. Brown has averaged four more shots per game and has only improved his overall field goal percentage from 46 to 52. All in all, the two are averaging over 20 points per game, and over their last five have averaged 26 PPG.
Their offense will draw eyes, but their improved defense has played a huge role in the Celtics ranking in the top five in defensive rating this season, despite losing interior presences Al Horford and Aron Baynes. Brown's strength down low permits Brad Stevens to throw him on almost any power forward in the NBA and keep his four best players in the floor, with Tatum, Gordon Hayward, and Kemba Walker filling out the other spots next to the big man of choice for the evening. Tatum, in particular, has made some impressive strides on that end; he's finally understanding how to use his length to consistently disrupt passing lanes, and is averaging 2.5 deflections per contest this season.
The best part is that they haven't even reached their full potential yet. Tatum is 21, and Brown is 23. The former has the look of a consistent 20 points-per-game scorer who can get his shot off against anyone from anywhere when he's feeling it, and the latter could become a two-way force in the way of Paul George, able to give his team consistent scoring when they need it and defend the opposing team's best player. Those are lofty comparisons to make right now, but you don't have to squint to see them when Brown and Tatum are rolling like they have been recently.
The two must continue to play at this level if Boston wants to make a deep playoff run. That much is obvious. But any doubts that were floated about if they were franchise cornerstones have already been put to rest-- and the best has yet to come.