Celtics

Celtics Exit Interviews: How will Jayson Tatum evolve?

Celtics Exit Interviews: How will Jayson Tatum evolve?

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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2020 NBA restart: It's OK for players to vocalize bubble concerns

2020 NBA restart: It's OK for players to vocalize bubble concerns

Even after Jayson Tatum very eloquently detailed his apprehensions about entering the bubble, there are some who continue to roll their eyes whenever a player expresses even the tiniest bit of concern about their sport’s resumption of play.

Listening to Boston Celtics players explain their various issues over the past week, I found it refreshing. I found it human. These players are leaving their families and risking their safety to bring us a tiny slice of normalcy with the return of pro sports.

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Yes, most are handsomely compensated — but they are also being thrust into an unprecedented situation with restraints they never signed up for, all largely for our entertainment.

What’s more, most recognize this. Tatum admitted it would be callous of him to sit out the restart solely in fear of compromising future earnings at a time when unemployment numbers are so outrageously high.

But if players want to vocalize their concerns — big and small — I’m all ears. There is no playbook for what players are about to endure inside this bubble and how they handle it all is a big part of the story.

When Tatum bemoans being apart from his 2 ½-year old son for as much as three months, I get it. FaceTime and Zoom make the world smaller but they are not substitutes for daily interaction between child and parent. When Gordon Hayward is adamant he will depart the bubble, and deal with the obstacles of reentering, to be there for the birth of his first son, I get it.

Life events, particularly those that could not have reasonably been expected to interfere with one’s work schedule, should not be ignored because it might temporarily hinder a team’s quest for a trophy.

At a time when all of our lives have already been altered, players are being asked to sacrifice even more of their typical freedoms.

It’s fair for them to be skeptical. It’s fair for them to voice concerns, even if others don’t believe they are as much of a hindrance as that player might be suggesting. We’d go so far as to suggest it would be weird if players didn’t have concerns about how this is all going to work, or offer emotional reactions to the infancy of their bubble stay.

We’re guessing many of the anxieties and inconveniences will likely dissipate as players settle into the bubble. Eventually, the return of games and competition should offer a much-needed jolt of normalcy in an otherwise bizarre living situation.

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If a player expressing their concern somehow diminishes your excitement for what’s ahead, I’m not sure what to tell you. To expect robot-like enthusiasm from athletes is misguided. To fret that players might vocalize genuine human emotion instead of simply reciting boring sports clichés flies counter to what we constantly yearn from our athletes.

There is a delicate line to walk. And players bemoaning 5-star hotels and pre-packaged meals won’t sit well in all corners. But I don’t mind the glimpse it offers if a player wants to share his knee-jerk reaction.

The guess here is that when Celtics players put on their uniforms and see the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo on the other side of the floor, competition will take center stage and the NBA will deliver a product much like the one we’ve yearned for since everything paused in March.

Sure, it's fair to wonder how the early scrimmages and seeding games will look, as each team will have different motivations in the ramp-up to the postseason, but the playoffs should have much of the excitement that we’re used to from those games. Let the famed Dream Team scrimmage be a prime example of how the absence of a crowd doesn’t always affect the intensity on the court.

This is all wildly unique. If being away from his son affects Tatum’s play, I want to hear about it. If Jaylen Brown worries that the return of games stunts the momentum of the social justice movement, I want to hear him vocalize that.

The human element is a major storyline to this wild experience.

2020 NBA restart: Top 22 players headed to the Orlando bubble

2020 NBA restart: Top 22 players headed to the Orlando bubble

With players already filing into the Disney World Bubble for the NBA to resume this season, the league’s restart has a much more realistic feel to it now.

As much as attention will be paid to the 22 teams on site, the league’s restart will be no different than any stretch of the season when it comes to what matters most — the players. 

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And while some players have decided to not participate in the league’s restart for health concerns or to continue to stand up and speak out on societal issues that have taken center stage in recent weeks, the overwhelming majority of the league’s star power will be back on the court in the coming weeks. 

But because the league return will only consist of players from the top 22 teams, any kind of power rankings of the top players should be limited to — you guessed it — the top 22 players. 

Here’s a glimpse at the top players in the NBA who are part of the league’s return to play which will officially kick off later this month.

Click here for the gallery.