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  • Matt Esposito

The Evolution of Jayson Tatum As Told By Kanye West's "Monster"

(Photo via Boston Globe)

Waiting to think of this idea only two days after Halloween is the most me thing I have ever done. Alas, spooky season is over and my window has closed. Jayson Tatum's window, however, may just be starting to open.

The Boston Celtics most recent contest versus the Knicks was too close for comfort. The Celtics were coming off of a remarkable come-from-behind win versus the the Milwaukee Bucks, on national television, nonetheless. This game should have been a blowout. Yet, it delivered the signature moment of Tatum's young career; a parcel of greatness Cs fans had been starving for. And as someone keenly synchronized his game-winning two to Father Stretch my Hands, I started thinking...

Jayson Tatum's professional journey to stardom can be told through Monster by Kanye West.

"I Shoot The Lights Out"

Year one. Danny Ainge and the Celtics trade backwards in the draft, surprising many analysts and fans alike. Markelle Fultz had been touted as a Frankenstein of guards, his corpse put together with parts of James Harden, Dwyane Wade and D'Angelo Russell. Yet, Ainge swaps draft positions with his rivaled Sixers and scoops up future assets along the way.

Apparently, Tatum was atop the Celtics' big board. Therefore, expectations for his rookie year, a year alongside the newly acquired Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, were lofty to say the least. As fate would have it, Tatum saw his playing time and role increase as Hayward and eventually Irving succumbed to season-ending injuries.

But as the subheading says, Tatum shot the lights out. Only a handful of rookies have ever put up his type of numbers during their first NBA season. Specifically, Tatum shot 49 percent on 2-pointers, 43 percent on 3-pointers and took three 3-point attempts per game. Look at the list below. Do some projecting. Tatum will likely be one of two people to ever accomplish this feat by the end of the 2019-2020 season while playing a meaningful amount of games.

Although Tatum's rookie year ended in a tantalizing Game 7 Eastern Conference Finals loss to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, he left fans with one glimpse of what his sophomore campaign could bring. A thunderous dunk over James, followed by an "I belong here" chest bump gave Celtic fans hope. Yes, Tatum could be the successor to The Truth himself.

He began his career like West began Monster. Full of dark energy and a conqueror's mindset, West starts off his verse with "The best living or dead hands down, huh." Most fans would agree that neither Kanye nor Tatum were the "best" but we would all agree that each of these respective stars has probably looked in a mirror and repeated that mantra to themselves at some point. It showed on the court. It showed on the track.

If not for Nicki Minaj, West's first verse would have nestled neatly into rap folklore. Rick Ross tugs Kanye out to sea just in time for him to catch an iconic wave. The track's drums tumble alongside neatly and with purpose. Knowing that Jay-Z and Nicki are yet to appear on the song, it would have been safe to wonder how they could follow up a verse with such verve and personality. But this is Jay-Z, after all. Expectations were understandably high. The same went for Tatum.

Just as we thought HOV would carry the baton across the track's inner core, we thought Tatum would blossom into a player who got someone in the Sixers' scouting department fire. How wrong we were.

"Hide Til It's Bright Out"

Describing the Celtics 2018-2019 as nocturnal may seem strange upon first glimpse. It may be surprisingly appropriate, however. Like a mangy, scrawny wolf the Cs were either feasting or starving. This included second-year pro Jayson Tatum.

The Leap. Many hoop heads look for this famed jump between a player's rookie and sophomore season. It has been a telltale, albeit not foolproof harbinger of stardom for decades now. All eyes were on Tatum, and for good reason. So, when he did not take the leap forward that many predicted, fingers searched for culprits to point at.

First there were his teammates. Was Jaylen Brown commanding too many touches? After all, he was trying to make the same ascension as his young teammate. Was Stevens sending the ball into Hayward's hands too often? Maybe so. How was Irving impacting this?

Then the blame grew more creative. Trainer Drew Hanlen was responsible. Kobe Bryant had mentored Tatum and seduced him into taking midrange twos instead of attacking the rim. Celtics fans everywhere looked to shift the accountability onto everyone but the one player they were desperately trying to protect.

The stats support the frustration. Claiming that Tatum regressed during is second season is a bit harsh, but he certainly did not progress. It is evident for all to see. His field goal attempts and field goal percentage went opposite ways, and not in the direction we could tolerate. His 3-point percentage dipped six percentage points despite his volume only slightly increasing.

Yes, nocturnal is starting to apply nicely. With constant rumors of drama and maddening inconsistency, the Celtics season was dark. Joy was hard to find and we looked, believe me. I looked just as diligently as when I listen to Jay's verse on Monster. He's top five dead or alive. This verse has to age well, right? Am I not hearing what I should be?

After Yeezy's pumping, swaggering lead off lyrics, HOV let us down. He took the whole monster theme too literally, to the point where one wonders if he used it as a crutch while fighting off writer's block.

"Sasquatch, Godzilla, King Kong, Loch Ness, goblin, ghoul, a zombie with no conscience. Question: What do these things all have in common?" I know. I have an answer to your question, Jay. They are all things we don't want to hear you rap about. The song suggests that fame can transform humans into, wait for it, monsters. How HOV did not pick up on that is beyond me. He had a golden chance to simultaneously remind us why he ranks above Ye in rap's hierarchy and transition this song from future nostalgic throwback into stillinrotationtoday. Yet, Jay dropped the ball.

Tatum did too. Perhaps that season was not the most nurturing of environments for our then patchy, it'll-grow-in-you-just-wait bearded stud. Excuses, excuses. Tatum simply took more bad shot attempts than he did during his first year. He could not see the direction in which to step confidently in to. It was a let down of memorable proportions, although one which could be overcome, just like Jay's verse.

"Oh, Just Another Lonely Night, Are You Willing To Sacrifice Your Life"

Ross did his thing during the intro. Kanye was the most Kanye we had heard in a long time. Jay...well Jay was the least Jay we had heard in a long time. And now this self-assured, stereotype-crushing newcomer is supposed to bring this track back to life? We had a right to be skeptical.

Entering his third year, the narrative was not just different, but better. Hayward would finally be through with his recovery. Kemba Walker was the antithesis of Irving. Four Cs played on Team USA; an experience that is almost objectively positive for a player's development. Yes, if Tatum were to make up for lost time, it would be this season. Still, many were questioning if he had what it takes. At less than 22-years-old, could we really expect the forward to propel himself into what we thought he could become? Or should we heed what last season revealed about Tatum and lower our expectations?

We are only five games into Boston's season but, he has certainly started the year like Nicki did her verse. Try saying, "Pull up in the monster, automobile gangster" without hearing her voice pulsing in your head. Best of luck.

Tatum has appeared on the court to be similar to those opening bars. Well, sometimes, at least. According to Celtics blogger Max Carlin, Tatum is doing something quite impressive with those 3-balls that he likes to shoot so much. It is even more impressive when you remember his age. The second part of the tweet gives pause, however. So, should we hit pause on Monster and therefore, this comparison?

Minaj's verse is routinely ranked as one of the greatest of all time. It extends past traditional length, uses a handful of creative deliveries and closes out an epic production. With any luck, Tatum will do the same in not only his third year but, his entire career as well. The jury is still out and if NBA history tells us anything, Tatum will have to sacrifice it all. But if he does then he could transform into the title of this very song.

#JaysonTatum #BostonCeltics #NBA #MattEsposito

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