BOSTON -- As the 2018-2019 regular season drew near, the chatter about Jayson Tatum being an All-Star only grew louder.
Based upon his first week, you could see why.
Three games into the season and Tatum was killin’ it on all levels, averaging a double-double of 21.0 points and 10.7 rebounds as the Celtics opened with wins in two of their first three games.
“Well, we need him to be great,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said after one of the early-season wins powered by Tatum’s tantalizing play.
Just as quickly as his star rose, the 21-year-old’s meteoric rise soon came back to earth, delivering a sobering reality that he just wasn’t quite ready for the kind of superstardom so many including himself had envisioned he would be in store for during his second NBA season.
With a solid but far from spectacular second season in the rearview mirror, Tatum and the Celtics shift their attention and focus towards the future.
And so we begin the latest installment of our Exit Interviews series with our focus today being on Jayson Tatum.
With two seasons under his belt, Tatum has to continue to build upon the good habits he has built, while adding new ones to the mix.
Part of that growth involves his constant evolution as a big-time scorer in this league.
While only Kyrie Irving averaged more points last season than Tatum, there’s a strong sense that he should have still delivered more than 15.7 points per game.
“There’s so much to like about Jayson Tatum’s game,” a Western Conference scout told NBC Sports Boston. “The thing that you can tell in watching him play that lets you know he’s a special talent, is how easy the game comes to him. He’ll have bad shooting nights just like all great scorers. But more nights than not, you come away feeling he missed shots he shouldn’t have missed rather than giving the defense credit for doing a good job. He’s that good, on all levels of scoring - at the rim, mid-range and the 3-ball.”
And when Tatum has big scoring nights, that’s usually a good thing for Boston.
In his two NBA seasons, the Celtics are 23-12 when he has scored at least 20 points.
And while Tatum has proven that long-range shooting and pull-up jumpers off the dribble are strengths of his game, one of the bigger areas of growth for him this offseason will have to involve the continuing growth, literally, of his body.
You don’t expect him to come back jacked up like Semi Ojeleye or anything like that, but continuing to improve strength-wise not only benefits him from being able to defend more players for longer stretches of time and not be a liability, but it also enhances his offensive game and allows him to do a better job of finishing in traffic, whether it be a strong lay-up or dunking on an All-Star wing (and no, it’s someone other than LeBron James).
And then there’s the big intangible of all the intangibles that all players tend to talk more and more about as they get older -- and that’s the speed of the game slowing down to a point where they are just out there playing while relying very little on thinking through what they’re doing out there.
Tatum talked about feeling that way during his rookie season, shortly after being thrust into a more prominent role with Marcus Morris (knee) on the mend and Gordon Hayward (ankle) out for the season.
But the past is not worth dwelling on when it comes to Tatum, who has one of the brightest futures of anyone in his draft class and certainly among the under-25 years of age set of Celtics.
However, the question that won’t go away -- at least when it comes to Tatum -- is whether that promise of greatness he has shown will manifest itself in Boston or elsewhere.
The Celtics front office absolutely loves Jayson Tatum.
But they have not been the least bit coy about being open to the idea of putting a trade package together for Anthony Davis that would likely include Tatum, who acknowledged what he would do if he had a chance to trade himself for Davis.
With so many players throughout the league getting bent out of shape/hurt feelings when they hear their name brought up in trade rumors, it’s refreshing to see someone as young as Tatum embrace it for what it is and not let it impact his play.
Whether he stays in Boston or gets shipped out elsewhere, Tatum’s future in the NBA seems extremely bright with what appears to be limitless potential.
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