By: Jackson Kowalski
The Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns sit at the top of their respective divisions as of March 28, 2022. Jayson Tatum and Devin Booker, alike, have led their teams to these positions and have both found their names swirling around MVP conversations over the past few weeks. Both players are having terrific seasons and NBA fans have been debating: Booker or Tatum?
Devin Booker: 26.5, 5, 4.9
1st seed in West w/ record of: 61-14
Jayson Tatum: 27.1 ,8.1 ,4.3
1st seed in East w/ record of: 47-28
Side-by-Side, the impact of each player on the stat sheet is very similar. The only clear advantage I see is Tatum’s ability to grab rebounds. Tatum, although a solid wing defender, is often positioned to help the low-post on defense. Robert Williams is a great rebounder, but outside of his boards, the Celtics do not have much of a post presence.
Booker, on the other hand, spends more time positioned out on the wing on defense. Ayton, Mcgee, and Biyombo provide all the rebounding Phoenix needs allowing Booker to stay further from the rim.
Both players shoot in the mid 40% from the field with Booker shooting 46.5% and Tatum shooting 45%. However, from three, Booker shoots 37.8% whereas Tatum is shooting 35.6%. This is especially important when you take into account the fact that Tatum shoots just under 9 threes a game while Booker only shoots 7. Both players are averaging 20 shot attempts per game. I think this is where Booker has a clear advantage. His shot selection is geared toward his strengths. He has mastered the mid-range, and improved his 3-point percentage since last season. This opens the floor for the Suns and allows Booker to create for himself and others.
Tatum still needs to improve his shot selection. While he seems to be nearly unstoppable in games he’s hitting the three ball, often he struggles to create for his team and himself when his three ball isn’t falling. This leads him into forcing shots and playing “hero” ball when the offense can’t get a bucket.
When I watch Jayson Tatum play, I think he can ultimately become a better player than Devin Booker. He has the athleticism to snake his way through defenses and he has proven his ability to hit tough shots. However, I don’t see a consistent leader in Tatum. I believe Booker has solidified himself as “the guy” in Phoenix and it’s evident his teammates believe the same.
I cannot make the same claim about Tatum. While his talent is tremendous, the consistency isn’t quite there. He has huge games where he looks to be a top 5 player, and then he has games where you forget he is on the court. While his performances average out to great production, I’m still going to count on Booker to perform in the biggest games.
I would like to see Tatum officially overtake Brown and Smart as the leader of the Celtics franchise.
They are number rankings 8 & 9 in usage rating this season, separated by only .01%.
Tatum is 1st in Field Goal attempts this season; Booker is 4th.
Both players are lacking championship rings. Booker has a finals appearance, but he has only gone to the playoffs once in his seven seasons in the NBA. Tatum doesn’t have a finals appearance, but he has made it to the Eastern Conference Finals twice in his five year career.
Both players have three ALL-STAR game appearances, though two of Booker’s appearances came as a replacement player (he deserved ALL-STAR!).
Tatum has an All-NBA 3rd Team appearance. Booker has no ALL-NBA appearances.
If I had to choose today, I would give a slight edge to Devin Booker. Both players will be at the top of our league for years to come. This year in particular, the stats and performances both players are putting up are incredible.
Booker has experience at the highest stage and he took Giannis Antetokoumpo’s Milwaukee Bucks to a six-game series in his first trip to the playoffs and beyond.
With the Suns in position to repeat last year’s trip to the finals, I have to say Booker ranks higher than Tatum in my book. That being said, Tatum has the opportunity to make a statement in the Eastern Conference Playoffs this year. The Celtics aren’t favorites. A deep playoff run for the Celtics led by Tatum could change the narrative in my head moving forward.
*stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com