The Boston Celtics gave their critics plenty of ammunition this season. As the team's best player, Jayson Tatum took plenty of their fire.
The 23-year-old averaged career highs in points (26.4), rebounds (7.4) and assists (4.3) per game this season while earning his second straight NBA All-Star nod. But Tatum's detractors observed that he didn't have the best on-court body language and wondered if he was lacking in the leadership department on a Celtics team that struggled with inconsistency and effort en route to a 36-36 record.
Tatum responded to those detractors Tuesday ahead of Boston's play-in tournament game against the Washington Wizards.
"I'm sure the people who watch the games and give their opinion on what happens kind of want you to be a certain way and think that if you’re yelling and screaming and stuff like that, that necessarily makes you a leader," Tatum told reporters.
"It works for some guys. I'm certain that we can name plenty of other guys who are special and led their team in a quieter way just because of their demeanor -- not necessarily yelling and screaming on the court or in the huddle so everyone can see. It can be in how you play, how you show up every day, pulling guys to the side, which, everybody won't see that.
"I’m certain that people think that since I’m not overly emotional or do things like that, they can kind of question whatever they want to question. But leadership comes in all different types of fashions, and I just do it in my own way.”
Tatum's point is well taken. He's not one to wear his heart on his sleeve like teammate Marcus Smart, but "quiet superstars" like Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard have found plenty of success without the on-court theatrics.
Still, the Celtics may need Tatum to emerge as more of a leader if they want to become true title contenders. Boston lacked cohesion and chemistry this season, and as Tatum and Jaylen Brown enter their fifth and sixth NBA seasons next fall, they'll be viewed as the team's tone-setters -- especially if there's turnover elsewhere on the roster.
That doesn't mean Tatum has to become a "yeller and a screamer," though. If he can lead by example and do the little things when no one is watching, it will go a long way toward Boston's future success.