Celtics

P.J. Tucker impressed with Jayson Tatum, 2017 draft class at USA training camp

P.J. Tucker impressed with Jayson Tatum, 2017 draft class at USA training camp

USA Basketball's roster for the 2019 FIBA World Cup isn't going to have the superstar names we normally see at the Summer Olympics, but the upcoming tournament in China is a great opportunity for the stars of tomorrow to get valuable experience on the international stage.

One of the veteran players at Team USA's pre-World Cup training camp in Los Angeles is Houston Rockets forward P.J. Tucker.

Tucker singled out a few members of the 2017 NBA Draft class, including Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, who have really impressed him during USA Basketball's camp over the last few weeks.

"Honestly, I swear all these guys are better than I realized," Tucker said Thursday, per the team. "It is crazy, playing against people a couple times a year is one thing but when you get here and you’re working every day, or you see how these guys work.

"All these young guys like De’Aaron Fox is amazing, he is way better than I thought he was, not saying I didn’t think he was good, but he is really, really good. I play Donovan (Mitchell) all the time with Utah so I know how good he is, but he’s been really great. Jayson Tatum is great. All these guys, I’m serious, top to bottom, all these guys are really good, and they are really going to be great in their individual careers."

This draft class received a ton of praise during the 2017-18 season, and it was much deserved. Tatum helped lead the Celtics to one win from the NBA Finals, while Mitchell led the Jazz to a surprising second round appearance in the Western Conference playoffs. Many other rookies from that class had impressive first seasons, including Fox, Lauri Markkanen and Kyle Kuzma.

Players from the 2017 class will be entering their third pro seasons in October, and Fox and Tatum are two to keep an eye on.

Fox had a breakout sophomore season for a young, talented Sacramento Kings team that exceeded nearly everyone's expectations by staying in the playoff race almost the entire 2018-19 campaign. He averaged 17.3 points and 7.3 assists per game, and his 3-point shooting rose from 30.7 percent as a rookie to 37.1 percent last season.

Tatum had a disappointing second season despite some of his stats improving. He shot too many mid-range jumpers, struggled to get to the free throw line consistently and saw declines in his field goal and 3-point percentages. Not only did Tatum struggle individually at times, the Celtics as a team failed to meet expectations en route to a lackluster second-round playoff exit.

The 2017 class will take a back seat to the 2019 class once the new season starts -- that's the Zion Williamson effect. But several members of the 2017 class will be playing important roles for teams hoping to contend in 2020, most notably Tatum (Celtics), Kuzma (Lakers) and Mitchell (Jazz). The development of these players could have a huge effect on the title race as a result.

Celtics rookie hopes to meet, learn from Vince Carter>>>

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Celtics Talk Podcast: Season preview; breaking down the opener vs. 76ers

Celtics Talk Podcast: Season preview; breaking down the opener vs. 76ers

Our crew that covers the Celtics has you covered as we preview the season and look ahead to Wednesday's opener in Philly against the Sixers.

2:00 - Kyle Draper, Chris Forsberg, A. Sherrod Blakely, and Brian Scalabrine give their expectations for the Boston Celtics this season. 

6:00 - How big of a year is this for Jaylen Brown? What do we see happening with his contract? 

9:00 - What expectations do we have for Jayson Tatum?

12:00 - What level can we expect Gordon Hayward to return to?

14:00 - Abby Chin hosts ‘Rookie Watch’. Where our crew debates which rookie will have the biggest impact for the Celtics this season. 

19:30 - Paul Hudrick covers the Sixers for NBC Sports Philadelphia. He joins the crew to preview the Celtics-76ers opening night matchup. (21:00) How does Al Horford fit into the mix with the 76ers? (22:00) How much pressure is on Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid? (27:00) How do people in Philadelphia feel about the Boston Celtics this season?

LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE:

Should Kanter start or come off the Celtics bench?

Should Kanter start or come off the Celtics bench?

BOSTON -- Enes Kanter is easily the most accomplished big man among the consortium of bigs the Celtics collected over the summer. 

And while his role will be an important one, there are plenty of indicators pointing towards Kanter beginning the season as a key performer coming off the Celtics bench. 

The 6-foot-11 center came off the bench in all three of his preseason appearances  Kanter averaged 17.2 minutes, 6.3 points and 6.3 rebounds, along with shooting 53.3 percent from the field in the three games. 

From the time Kanter signed with Boston, the Celtics have made no secret about him playing a significant role as a scorer in the low post. 

“He just knows how to score around the basket,” Kemba Walker told NBC Sports Boston. “As long as I’ve been in the league, that’s what Enes does; he’s a scorer, for sure.”

His strength and Boston’s need for more scoring at the rim led to many assuming he would be the starting center. 

But coach Brad Stevens has hinted on multiple occasions that he sees Kanter being most useful coming off the bench - something Kanter says he’s on board with, if that’s what Stevens wants to do. 

“Throughout my career, I play as a starter and as a player coming off the bench,” Kanter told NBC Sports Boston. “I’m OK either way.”

The eight-year veteran has appeared in 583 regular-season games, with 216 of those as a starter. 

That’s why the idea of starting or being a key reserve doesn’t change anything for him as far as how he approaches games. 

“If we’re winning, everything is cool,” Kanter said. “I know where coach is going. Obviously, first unit everybody can score. With me and [Marcus] Smart with the second unit, we can come in and … we have another level to go to.”

According to Hoopsstats.com, the Celtics averaged 38.4 bench points last season, which ranked 10th in the NBA. 

With Terry Rozier in Charlotte via sign-and-trade, Marcus Morris in New York and Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward back in the Celtics’ starting lineup, Boston’s second unit will look dramatically different than a year ago. 

Kanter coming off the bench provides the Celtics with a legit, proven scorer with the second unit with career averages of 11.7 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 54.1 percent from the field.

Starting or not, the focus for Kanter remains the same - make an impact as soon as he can once he enters the game. 

Achieving that becomes easier if there’s a heightened level of comfort with his teammates. It's something Kanter has made a priority in his first training camp with the Celtics. 

“We know how to score the ball, how to play basketball,” Kanter said. “For the preseason the most important thing for us is to build that chemistry. Whenever we go out there, we’re trying to communicate, we’re trying to trust each other and try to get used to playing with each other. 

Kanter added, “That’s the most important thing. Off the court is so important. That’s going to make us better teammates, better friends. So, right now, all I care about what’s going on off the court. Once we get in there, we’ll be fine.”

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