SALT LAKE CITY – When the narrative on Jayson Tatum’s NBA career is written, his first summer league game likely won’t even make it past the first edit.
But for now, this is the most important game for the 19-year-old Celtic, a game that he has been looking forward to for quite some time.
It isn’t because he’s facing Philadelphia and Markelle Fultz, a fellow one-and-done prospect who was taken with the No. 1 overall pick.
It’s not necessarily to prove anything to the coaching staff or his new teammates, either.
It’s a big deal because it’s a game that he can play in, something he and most high draft picks were cautioned against for months as to avoid injury and potentially hurting their draft stock.
But the draft is in the past now, which has allowed Tatum to get back to doing what he loves the most – playing basketball.
“I haven’t competed against somebody since we (Duke) lost to South Carolina (in the NCAA Tournament),” Tatum said during the CelticsTalk Podcast with Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely. “I can’t wait.”
Well, the wait is just about over with the Celtics kicking off their summer league schedule tonight against the Sixers at 7 p.m. (can be seen on CSN).
It’s still early in his development, but Tatum has impressed both his teammates and the coaching staff.
“Jayson is going to be a great player for a long time,” said Celtics assistant coach Jerome Allen, who will serve as the Celtics’ summer league head coach in Salt Lake City.
And while we’re talking about what he can do as a basketball player, Allen sees Tatum’s demeanor and just the way he carries himself, translating well at whatever he chooses to do in life.
“Whether he’s a basketball player or a business man or lawyer, he possesses the traits to be someone who is successful,” Allen said.
For now, Tatum’s focus is on improving every day in practice and doing whatever he can to help Boston build off the success of last season which included a trip to the Eastern Conference finals which ended with the Celtics losing to Cleveland in five games.
And while he’s enjoying the practice time with his summer league teammates, getting back on the floor in a real five-on-five game is what he’s longing for right now.
“I’m just excited to play my first game,” Tatum said. “It’s been forever. It’s been a dream of mine since I can remember to just get drafted and play in an NBA uniform.”
And although he’s still one of the new guys, you would think he has played for Brad Stevens all his life when he talks about his approach to the game.
“I take it one step at a time,” he said. “Not get too high or too low on expectations; just one day at a time.”
But as the third overall pick in last month’s draft, there are expectations that come with being selected so close to the top of the draft board.
Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, is confident in Tatum’s ability to play well at the NBA level.
But he’s not expecting him to necessarily hit the ground running, especially when you consider the depth Boston has at his position and the fact that he’s so young.
“Again, he’s 19 years old,” Ainge said. “I don’t want to put any expectations … I want to give him time to grow. We’ll see. He’ll definitely have a role, get a chance to play. And how well he performs is up to him.”