Is it too soon to start talking NBA MVP? I don’t think so. We’re basically a quarter of the way into the season. It’s still early, but it’s not that early. We know, for instance, that the Cleveland Cavaliers made a dynamite decision in pushing all in for Donovan Mitchell. We’ve seen enough to confidently say that. If you believe Mitchell has been the early season MVP, I won’t argue with you. I agreed with you a week ago.
Reasonable minds could also argue for Luka Doncic, the league’s leading scorer, or Giannis Antetokounmpo, the only player who is averaging at least 25-10-5, or Stephen Curry, who has probably been the best player so far this season. But the Warriors are under .500. A month from now, as Golden State narrows its rotation and at least stops bleeding bench points at a catastrophic rate, Curry would be my pick to be in the MVP lead.
Ja Morant deserves some noise.
But for me, right now, Jayson Tatum has taken pole position. He’s just too much right now. Over a 24-hour span, Tatum just blitzed Denver and Detroit for 77 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists on a back-to-back — the latter of which saw him go for 43 and 10 boards in a win against the Pistons on Saturday. He did it from everywhere on the court.
With those seven 3-pointers on Saturday, Tatum overtook Stephen Curry for the most made threes in the month of November (28). True, he’s jacked up a lot more of them (76 to Curry’s 48), but that’s a good thing. Tatum continues to sharpen his shot chart. He entered Saturday’s game taking 73 percent of his shots from either outside the arc or inside four feet. That’s the highest rim/3 frequency of his career, per Cleaning the Glass.
Tatum is also getting to the free-throw line at a career-high rate. After 10 more attempts on Saturday, he’s up to nine freebies a game. When this sharp a shooter is piling up this kind of volume from three, the free-throw line and at the rim (where he’s finishing at nearly an 80-percent clip, another career high), you’re starting to venture into unstoppable territory — which is precisely what Tatum, who now leads the league in total points at better than 50 percent from the floor, has been of late.
Check out the numbers in their entirety.
Tatum has addressed every one-time concern in his game. Trouble finishing? Not anymore. Trouble getting to the free-throw line? Not anymore. Settling for too many midrange jumpers? Not anymore. Limited as a playmaker? Not anymore. Tatum is in complete control of his game and the floor. He’s patient yet aggressive, noticeably stronger and more assertive in pushing the pace and going through contact for coast-to-coast finishes. As defenses naturally shift to his side of the court, he’ll skip pass the hell out of you. He did it on a handful of possessions against Detroit. He has every defense on a string right now, and he’s playing them all to an MVP-level tune.