For most rookies, that first year in the NBA is one filled with lots of learning. From that standpoint, Jayson Tatum is not all that unusual.
Still, with injuries up and down the Celtics roster, Tatum, now 20, will be looked upon to provide more than what we saw this season.
And what we’ve seen this season is pretty good.
Going forward, with players in and out of the lineup because of injuries or just rest, Tatum’s impact has to continue to expand.
We saw an aggressive Tatum at both ends of the floor in the 125-124 double-overtime loss to Washington and the Celtics will need him to bring a similar attack-mode mentality to the floor tonight against Orlando.
There’s no way to look past his missed free throw at the end of the first OT or his 3-pointer at the end of the second OT that hit the back of the rim and clanged out.
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Between all that, Tatum was getting to the rim whether on a straight-line drive or a spin move along the baseline for a dunk.
It was the kind of performance that, minus the missed free throw, was the kind of game Boston wanted and going forward, will need from the rookie who for most of this season did not play like a first-year player.
When the season began, Tatum talked about trying to fit in and feel out his teammates to see what he can do to help the team be successful.
With most of the guys he tends to play off of (Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Smart) dealing with illnesses or injuries, more will be expected of the rookie.
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And whether he’s on the court or not, rest assured Irving will continue to remind Tatum of just how important it is for him to play with a heightened level of aggressiveness.
“I’m here to remind him of that throughout the game, throughout the season,” Irving said. “Just take advantage of the opportunities he’s afforded out there offensively. He can make a huge impact. He’s aware of that. As a developing young player, the best thing he can do is continue to learn how to be consistent. That’s a trait you have to develop over time. I think he’s doing a great job of learning on the fly.”
Here are five other below-the-radar storylines to keep an eye on tonight as the Celtics look to be back on a winning track at Orlando:
This has been arguably the best season the Celtics have had under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens and a big part of that has been the team’s ability to win on the road. Boston comes in with a 23-9 road record, which is tops in the East and trails only Houston (27-8) and Golden State (25-9) in the NBA.
Boston has been a different team shooting the ball since the All-Star break, with only three teams (Golden State, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Denver Nuggets) shooting better from the break than the Celtics who have connected on 48.7 percent of their shots from the field. And they face an Orlando team that has struggled in several areas since the break, especially defensively. Opponents are shooting 48.1 percent against the Magic since the break, which ranks 24th in the NBA in field goal percentage defense.
The book is still out on Orlando Magic rookie Jonathan Isaac, selected with the sixth overall pick in last June. Injuries have limited him to just 23 games this season. And as it turns out, injuries have led to Orlando inserting him in the starting lineup the past four games. For the season he has averaged 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.
Injuries have forced the Celtics to play a scrappier brand of basketball. And the upside to that has been noticeably improved play when it comes to creating second-chance scoring opportunities. In fact, Boston is tops in the NBA this month, averaging a league-best 16.8 second-chance points per game.
HORFORD’S BOUNCE-BACK GAME
Al Horford is often criticized for not scoring more points. But that has certainly not been the case this season after Horford has missed a game or two. The first game back from an illness or injury has seemingly brought out the best in Horford as a scorer. In those initial games back to the floor (he has had four of them this year), Horford has averaged 17.5 points while shooting 58.3 percent from the field and 58.3 percent (7-for-12) from 3-point range.