Where does Jayson Tatum go from here?
The Celtics star's unique season of highs and lows ended Tuesday night in Boston's Game 5 loss to the Brooklyn Nets that eliminated them from the playoffs.
Tatum had a team-high 32 points and averaged 30.3 points over the first-round series, capping off the best statistical season of his young career. The 23-year-old set career highs in points (26.4), rebounds (7.4) and assists (4.3) per game and is a candidate to make an All-NBA team for the second consecutive year.
The Celtics stumbled to a 36-36 record, though, and as the team's star player, Tatum drew criticism for a perceived lack of leadership and poor on-court body language.
That criticism clearly stuck with Tatum, who brought up his detractors after Game 5 when asked what lessons he's learned from this season.
"I've made strides every season. I know that and the coaches and my teammates know that," Tatum told reporters, as seen in the video above. "I know there's a lot of people out there that have their opinions on how I should lead or my demeanor or things like that, and the cool part is that doesn't matter. I get to be myself and not really have to listen to how people think I should lead.
"I know what I bring to this team from that standpoint and how I communicate with guys out there and in the locker room. So, yeah, I've made strides regardless of what people outside think."
Tatum made similar comments prior to the Celtics' play-in tournament win over the Washington Wizards, noting that just because he's not "yelling and screaming" on the court doesn't mean he's not being a leader. He also just finished his fourth NBA season and has plenty of time to evolve as the face of the franchise.
Tatum may have to fast-track that evolution, though. He and Jaylen Brown could be the only two constants on a Celtics roster in flux this offseason after a frustrating campaign, so the C's will look to their two young All-Stars for leadership in 2021-22.
Tatum might take more heat this summer from analysts trying to dissect what went wrong this season, but it sounds like his motivation will come from within.
"When I started playing, it wasn't just to make the NBA. It was to excel at the highest level and be considered one of the best, to be a winner, be a MVP, all those types of things," Tatum said. "So, that's what drives me: the expectations that I have for myself.
"None of what people on the outside say about me or criticize or don't criticize or say that I should or shouldn't do, that has never played a factor in what drives me. It's always been the goals I've set for myself, the places I know I can get to regardless of what people on the outside say."