Gregg Popovich thinks very highly of Jayson Tatum.

That means he holds the Boston Celtics star to a high standard -- and isn't afraid to call him out.

The San Antonio Spurs coach was Tatum's boss on Team USA this past summer as it competed in the 2019 FIBA World Cup. And during one film session, Popovich apparently put Tatum on blast for a defensive shortcoming.

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Via Jackie MacMullan's feature on Tatum for ESPN.com:

"I wish I could be you!" boomed USA Basketball coach Gregg Popovich, striding toward the young Boston Celtics forward in a film room in China. "Then I could stand in the corner with my 7-foot-long arms down by my side and not move while players go past me!"

Popovich's jab caused "unsuccessfully stifled peals of laughter" from Tatum's teammates, according to MacMullan, and USA teammate Marcus Smart called the exchange "awesome."

Popovich had good intentions, though, offering Tatum some very high praise just a few days after that meeting.

"Do you know how special you can be?" Popovich asked Tatum, according to MacMullan. "There are very few two-way players in our game, and you have the opportunity to be one of them.

"You could be like Kawhi [Leonard] and Paul George."

Popovich made similar comments about Tatum earlier this month, expressing his belief that the 21-year-old forward can be a "genuine" two-way player if he realizes his defensive potential.


Tatum certainly is on the right track: According to NBA.com, he ranks third in the NBA in defensive win shares (minimum of 15 games played) behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid. He also boasts a 11.1 net rating, nearly double his 6.8 net rating from last season.

The third-year forward still has room for improvement -- we'll find out Thursday night if he'll make his first All-Star team -- but the fact that he's good enough to get ripped by Popovich is a promising sign.

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