BOSTON -- When the NBA season was put on pause back in March, you could count the players on one hand who were playing better than Jayson Tatum.
But as good as Tatum was prior to the league’s stoppage of play, he knows that there are still levels in which he can elevate his play and continue to grow into being one of the NBA’s brightest stars in the not-so-distant future.
Talent is a big part of his success; talent that seems to be fueled by a Teflon-strong brand of confidence.
“I know what I’m capable of, what I think I’m capable of, what I’m striving for,” Tatum said during a conference call prior to the Celtics’ practice on Friday night. “That’s the edge that I have for myself. I step on the floor, I think I’m the best player every night."
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And that confidence stems from the 22-year-old dominating play seemingly every night for the Celtics after he was named to his first NBA All-Star team.
In the 10 games following the All-Star break, Tatum averaged 29.9 points per game shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 46.8 percent from 3-point range along with 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
But as well as Tatum was playing, he knows it may take him a minute or two to get back to where he was prior to the league’s stoppage of play.
Tatum knows all those shots he knocks down in practices these days will help him re-establish his shooting rhythm.
But it won’t be until he starts to face other teams where he’ll get a true sense for where he’s at in relation to the jacuzzi-hot play he was putting on display on a nightly basis since the global pandemic led to the NBA suspending the season on March 12.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is focused on his team getting back into doing many of the things prior to the stoppage of play that were instrumental in the Celtics currently having the third-best record in the Eastern Conference with a realistic shot at moving up to the No. 2 spot currently held down by the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors.
“Right now we have so many things we have to do better,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “You’re rebuilding habits. This team was pretty good as far as habits on both sides of the floor.”
The Celtics come into the season reboot ranked fourth in defensive rating (106.2) and fifth in offensive rating (112.3). Only the Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks are ranked among the top-five in those respective categories.
Some of those habits that Stevens speaks about involve setting the proper screen to loosen up shooters for open or lightly contested shots. Getting in the proper position to rebound the ball at both ends of the floor. Closing out under control on shooters with the right amount of speed while staying under control.
There’s a long and lengthy list of items that the Celtics were doing at a high level prior to the season being put on pause.
“And then you add on top of that … you have a tendency to take shortcuts when you’re not in great shape,” said Stevens who added that the Celtics feel good about how well the players kept themselves in shape the past few months.
The team’s conditioning will be put to the test tonight with an intrasquad scrimmage in which every player will play 18-20 minutes within a 24-minute window.
“We’re not gonna get anything out of it if we take shortcuts,” Stevens recalled the team talking about during a film session prior to tonight’s practice. “This will be a night where we sleep easy because we should be exhausted.”
Said Tatum: “I’m ready to play. I know it probably won’t look perfect when we first start playing. That’s not the goal. The goal is to play when the playoffs start; that’s when you want to hit your stride. Once it gets playoff time, you really want to start clicking as a group.”