BOSTON -- Jayson Tatum has been the talk of the preseason for the Celtics, a basketball prodigy in the eyes of many whose feel for the game goes well beyond what you would expect from a 19-year-old.
That’s why the idea of him being an Opening Night starter, while somewhat far-fetched just a few weeks ago, may indeed become a reality.
Coach Brad Stevens has not announced who his starters will be for the season opener at Cleveland on Tuesday, but all indications are that it’ll include Tatum.
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And that would make Tatum the first rookie to start for the Celtics since Vitor Faverani in 2013, Stevens’ rookie season with the Celtics.
“I don’t want to say (who will start) because then I feel like I’m stuck to it,” Stevens said. “It’ll probably be pretty similar to what we’ve been doing.”
Boston’s new Big Three of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford will certainly start. Second-year forward Jaylen Brown has been with the first unit in all four preseason games.
And who has started the most games after that?
He appeared in all four preseason games (three starts), averaging a team-best 24.3 minutes played while averaging 8.3 points per game.
Even more impressive was his defense, as he showed the ability to contain players with different strengths.
Tatum has also benefited from circumstances that he had no control over, to be in position to be in the starting lineup.
Aron Baynes, who started the first preseason game, suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss one preseason game, but beyond that has been a solid contributor for Boston. In three preseason games, he averaged 8.0 points and 4.3 rebounds. Stevens said Baynes spent some time practicing with the first unit on Sunday, primarily to work on the chemistry of playing with Al Horford.
If Stevens doesn’t start Tatum, Baynes would be the likely choice.
Stevens will also be without Marcus Morris (knee) who will be re-evaluated in 10 days to two weeks. He, too, was a possible option to consider starting.
But to Tatum’s credit, he has made the most of his opportunity to play and, by and large, has done a good job.
Still, preseason success is by no means an indicator of how he will fare against Cleveland, the team everyone in the East is chasing.
This isn't lost on Tatum who says he has been getting some sage advice from the team’s veteran players.
“Regular season and preseason are like night and day,” Tatum recalls the Celtics’ more seasoned players telling him. “[Regular season is] a totally different ball game.”
Especially when Tatum thinks about how at some point on Tuesday night, he’ll be face-to-face against LeBron James.
“I used to watch LeBron on TV and now playing my first game against him . . . ” said Tatum who acknowledged that he has envisioned himself playing against James before.
How’d that go?
“It went good in my head,” Tatum said, grinning.