Celtics

Blakely: Jayson Tatum the next Kevin Durant? Not yet, but he's trending there

Blakely: Jayson Tatum the next Kevin Durant? Not yet, but he's trending there

BOSTON – The debate about who will become the best player from the 2017 NBA draft is a three-man race between redshirt rookie Ben Simmons, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell and the Celtics' Jayson Tatum.

All three will have great NBA careers, but the belief that Tatum will be the best of the bunch – a belief shared recently by former ESPN NBA analyst J.A. Adande and many others – is one that’s going to gain steam as time passes on. Adande, now director of sports journalism at Northwestern University, talked about it on Jeff Goodman's "Good N Plenty" podcast for CLNS Media. 

Simmons, who sat out the 2016-17 season with an injury and returned a year later to win the league’s rookie of the year award, is going to be a load for teams to deal with for years to come. Still, as long as he remains a no-show when it comes to showing up to shoot jumpers or any shot outside the paint, that hole in his game will keep him from reaching his full potential which would be to become one of the greatest guards to ever play in the NBA.

As for Mitchell, he’s going to be a very good player for a long time as well because of his scoring ability, 6-10 wingspan and overall toughness. But being a superstar out West is not easy, especially in a market such as Utah, which doesn't attract the elite, upper echelon free agents which are absolutely must-haves for a superstar to do what the great ones do and that's win at the highest of levels. 

And then there’s Tatum, who really does have some Kevin Durant-like qualities to his game as well as a similar build.

Both came into the NBA as long, lanky scorers who just got buckets in an assortment of ways.

While Durant has better length, Tatum’s perimeter shooting and overall efficiency as a scorer are ahead of where Durant was at the same stage of his career.

Tatum was among the league’s top 3-point shooters for most of the season and finished with a respectable 43.4 percent shooting rate on 3s which led all rookies and ranked 8th in the NBA.

Meanwhile, Durant was a sub-30 percent 3-point shooter as a rookie. To Durant’s credit, he bounced back the following season and shot 42.2 percent on 3s which remains his career high.

Don’t look for Tatum’s scoring numbers to come close to mirroring those of Durant anytime soon. Tatum plays for a team that’s one of the favorites to get to the NBA Finals and has lots of offensive balance, led by all-stars Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. Those Seattle (later Oklahoma City) teams Durant played for, were fighting to just be competitive.

Defensively, this one isn’t even close – Tatum by a landslide.

And again, we’re talking about where Tatum is now and where Durant was as an NBA rookie defensively. Since those early years, Durant has evolved into a really good defender both man-to-man and as a help defender. Tatum plays with better defenders and in doing so, has benefited from good defensive habits that most young players drafted as high as he was, are not exposed to. And as talented a scorer as Tatum proven himself to be, it was his defense more than anything else that got him on the floor early on.

The career of Durant is cemented as one of the greatest players of this generation and certainly a first-ballot Hall of Famer because of his play and success in Oklahoma City and Golden State.

Tatum’s nowhere close to being there yet. But when you look at his size, his length, defense, overall feel for the game and the rate at which the Celtics keep building on the win total from one year to the next … it looks a lot like what we have seen from Durant.

And we’ve all seen how his career has turned out.

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After torching Celtics, Donovan Mitchell headed north of Boston

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After torching Celtics, Donovan Mitchell headed north of Boston

First, Donovan Mitchell dropped 28 points on the Celtics as his Utah Jazz won their second game over Boston in as many weeks, holding them to a season-low point total in the process.

Then, the buregoning superstar swung up I-93 to North Andover to cheer on his sister, Jordan, in her girls' soccer contest Sunday morning with his alma mater Brewster Academy:

The Bobcats fell to MacDuffie (Mass.), 1-0, in the NEPSAC Class C championship on the campus of Brooks School.

Mitchell, a New York native, spent the final two years of his high school career on the Wolfeboro, N.H.-based Brewster campus, as famous for its scenic overlook of Lake Winnipesaukee as it is its incredible pipeline of basketball players to high-major college programs and the NBA. Over the last two decades the Bobcats' post-graduate team has featured numerous players who went on to the NBA, including Thomas Robinson, Mitch McGary, Will Barton, T.J. Warren, JaKarr Sampson and Jeff Adrien.

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What to like, not like about the Celtics' loss to the Utah Jazz

What to like, not like about the Celtics' loss to the Utah Jazz

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics were in catch-up mode during most of their Saturday night home loss to the Utah Jazz. It was a game that dropped Boston to 9-7 overall and raised some serious concerns about where this team is now and more important, its direction going forward.

“We have to build a tougher team mindset than we have,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said after Saturday’s loss. “I mean, we just don’t have that mindset yet that we need.”

While no one is panicking, there is a clear and undeniable heightened level of concern within the locker room.

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But with most defeats, there are a few silver linings to latch on to as well as areas in clear need of fixing.

So, about last night …

WHAT WE LIKED

BOARD IT UP: Rebounding continues to be a choose-your-own-adventure proposition for the Boston Celtics, showing signs of being dominant one night and dormant the next. Saturday night was one of the Celtics’ better nights when it came to rebounding the ball, winning the rebounding battle 51-45. It wasn’t like a late-game surge when the game was out of reach, either. Boston was either tied or led in rebounding after each quarter except the first. To do that against a Utah team that has been among the best rebounding clubs this season is a definite positive.

YABA, DABBA DO!: Guerschon Yabusele didn’t get on the floor until the game was out of reach, but Celtics fans – and the coaching staff – certainly had to like what they saw. In nine minutes, he had nine points and a couple rebounds as well as two steals. It was the kind of performance that, if we see Yabusele on the court more consistently in the coming days, we’ll come back to as being the jumping off point for his emergence as a contributor this season.

KYRIE IRVING: He didn’t torch the Utah Jazz like he did the Toronto Raptors on Friday night, scoring 20 points against the Jazz compared to 43 against the Raptors. But what Irving did that stood out was his shooting. He got his 20 points on 8-for-16 shooting, giving him a season-best three consecutive games in which he shot 50 percent or better from the field.

WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE

COSTLY FREE THROWS: There’s a pretty long laundry list of things that did not go Boston’s way in Saturday’s loss, most of which the Celtics had control over. Of all those things, nothing stood out more than their struggles at the free throw line. For the game, Boston wound up shooting a season-low 55 percent from the line. That number would have been a lot worst if not for head coach Brad Stevens emptying the bench as the game seemingly got away from them in the latter stages of the third quarter and all of the fourth, which is when Boston’s reserves knocked down their free throws, which raised Boston’s free throw percentage to the above-.500 threshold.

LIVE AND DIE BY THE 3-BALL: Three-point shooting continues to be a feast or famine proposition for the Celtics this season. The Celtics connected on a season-low 15.2 percent (5-for-33) of their 3-pointers against the Jazz. Boston’s struggles weren’t just a starter or reserve-based issue, evident by Boston’s first unit connecting on just three of its 16 three-pointers taken, and the second unit (2-for-17) proving to be even worse.

IRVING ISLAND: For far too many stretches of play Saturday night, Irving looked very much like a man on an island surrounded by an ocean full of sharks donning Jazz jerseys. He scored 20 points on 8-for-16 shooting. And it’s not like Irving was not being a willing passer. He had a team-best 64 touches against the Jazz, passing the ball 45 times but only tallying just three assists in large part because teammates were missing open to lightly contested shots.

WHAT'S NEXT

Boston hits the road to face a 7-8 Charlotte team on Monday that has lost three of its last four games. The most recent loss was an overtime defeat to Philadelphia in which Kemba Walker scored a career-high 60 points. As we’ve seen repeatedly this season, opposing team’s best scorers have seemingly had a field day knocking down shots against the Celtics. And like Boston, the Hornets will also look to make their mark from long range as they come into Monday's game averaging 12.2 made 3’s per game which ranks 5th in the NBA.

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