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Forsberg: Why Bradley Beal believes Tatum is the future face of NBA

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Bradley Beal admits he’s biased. He also doesn’t believe that makes his declaration any sort of exaggeration.

Beal is certain that his St. Louis buddy Jayson Tatum will soon be the face of the NBA. The Wizards guard gushes about Tatum’s potential, believing he’s only scratched the surface, and yet he still muscled his way into the MVP conversation with his play over the final three months of the 2021-22 season.

Celtics Talk: Bradley Beal on why Jayson Tatum is the next face of the NBA | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

"I feel like he hasn't even cracked the seal of really realizing how good he can possibly be. So that's why I see it," Beal told NBC Sports Boston. "Granted, yes, I may sound biased. Sure, sure, whatever. But I've been saying it since he was a kid: Go be the best player to ever touch a basketball. Go do that.

"You have those intangibles, you have the skillset, right? And you have the size, right? It's just a matter of putting it all together and just really dominating. Mentally, telling yourself every night that this is my floor, I'm the best player on the floor.

"And you've seen that. He’ll crack that code every now and then, right? But the more he does it, I think he's starting to get it. I think over these last -- we’ll say [since] the [All-Star] break, since then [the Celtics have] lost like, what, four games? I think he's really started to see how he can really manipulate his game. He can really be one of those guys that you fear. So the sky is the limit for him. And it's all up to Jay though."


Beal isn’t the only one that thinks Tatum can eventually be the game’s biggest star. Celtics teammate Grant Williams has had a front-row seat for Tatum’s ascension and marvels at where it might end.

"Oh, for sure, Jayson can be the best player in the league,” said Williams. "I think in the last months of the season, he has been the best player in the league ... Like when you trap somebody coming over half court, just like they did Steph Curry in his unanimous MVP year, that's how you know you're at that point. We all understand he makes our lives easier. He’s been doing a great job as a playmaker; he doesn't get that credit as much. But it's one of those things where he's developed and been blossoming, on the rise, over the past three years."

Biased or not based, there’s a certain heft that Beal’s words carry when he talks about Tatum’s growing status in the league. The Wizards guard was effusive in his praise of Tatum and reflected on being a big-brother presence as Tatum followed his NBA footsteps. You can hear the full interview on the latest Celtics Talk podcast or watch the interview on YouTube.

Here are some other highlights from our chat with Beal (edited for brevity and context): 

Tatum started his second-half surge with a 51-point game against your Wizards in late January. Why does he always have big second halves of the season and have you seen a different Jayson Tatum over the last three months?

Beal:  I would say from a leadership standpoint, right? Like he took the team on his back. … From the outside looking in: What's wrong with Boston, right? Everything was fresh, everything was new. They had a new team, added some guys, they had a new coach, so there was a lot of things that they had to adjust to, just like several teams in the league. But I think once that clicked, Jayson realized that he had to lead, right?

Him and Jaylen [Brown] have been thrusted in this position of leading a team, right? You have Marcus [Smart] there, who has been there, who has endured those bumps and bruises and who knows how to lead. But now it's Jayson's and Jaylen's turn to kind of endure that, projecting into what they're going to be.


So I think Jayson, for me, the difference I see is just his maturity in the game. He's more vocalized leading. He's bringing it every single night. And I think that's a testament to being really great. If you can do that every single night and you can make your teammates better, you're checking all the boxes of being a great player.

We’ve started to see a little bit more of Tatum's personality the past couple seasons. What don’t we see from Tatum and has he changed much through the years?

Beal: No, he's the same. It's so funny because I try not to compare him to me as much but people always do. But we're very similar. He's very quiet. That's how I was. He is very quiet, he keeps to himself, he's independent. And he creates his own lane. I think that's what I love and admire about him. Especially coming up, right? So when I was kind of the big-brother figure, he would do everything I would do. But it came to a point where, he got in college, he was like, ‘OK, I gotta get out from under these big-brothers wings, kinda create my own lane.’ To see that happen, I was like, ‘OK, he’s ready.’

He took the advice I gave him, took the advice his mom gave him, took the advice his dad gave him, and channeled it and ran with it. I always credit his mom and his dad because his support system was awesome. No kid can make it here without a great support system. And to see Jayson, the family he had with his grandma, too, and to see how grounded everybody was and a part of his success. That is huge. That is huge. But he's always been quiet. Like, there's no surprises about Jayson. 

I think we're starting to see a little bit more of his emotion in the game. And I think that's what fans want to see. Honestly, when they see their best player play the game, see their favorite players, they want that emotion. They want to see something that [the fans] can mimic from Jayson Tatum. What's his signature? Kids embrace that and that's something I try to remind Jay about. Every time you walk in Boston, you walk around the streets, like somebody has a No. 0 [jersey]. That is crazy to think about, crazy to see. So embrace that, understand that every time you step on the floor, you’re a kid’s dream, you’re a kid’s favorite player. Go be that and more for this league. And he has it. He has it.


Have you seen his new signature move? The Kiss of Death after his late-game daggers? Are you willing to embrace that: JT blowing kisses?

Beal: You know what, I can embrace that. After a dagger, that’s all you can do. I like it. I’ve seen it a few times. The more he brings out that emotion in the game, I think that will take his game up even more.

What are your conversations like now? Do you still offer him advice? How much can you push him to keep going?

Beal: I don't do much because he's his own player, he’s his own man now. The advice I do give him is exactly what you just said: Just keep going, right? Just keep tapping into another level, right? Just keep pushing. I want him to be the best player ever. I know he wants that. I know he wants to -- or at least be in the conversation. So, obviously, I’m biased. I’m going to push him, his mom is going to push him, everybody's going to push him, [trainer] Drew [Hanlen is] going to push -- like his whole corner is gonna push him to be immaculate and be great.

Everything is right there for you. Everything is in the palm of his hands. Now he just has to continue to working, continue to eclipse those goals he has.

Bradley Beal on Jayson Tatum

But our conversations, man, they're just about life. We're both men. We're both dads. We just embrace the journey that we both have. It’s always about life, how we can grow and just enjoy it, man. It's nothing beyond that. There's nothing that I can tell him that he doesn't already know or that he won't learn. Sky is the limit for him, like I always say.

How crazy is it, though, to suggest he could be one of the greatest players of all time and there’s no hesitation in your voice?

Beal: Call me biased, man, but I can see it. Like, he is super talented. And this period, all of our peers will tell you the same, they'll tell you the same thing. You know whenever you play Boston, you know who to stop. You know who the game plan is, you know who we’re trying to stop. So there's no surprise.

But to see Jayson be in the situation he’s in, to be in Boston, to be in a sports town, to be in basketball Mecca, essentially, there’s no story better written for him. All he has to do is just embrace the atmosphere that he's been in. The city loves him, team loves him, the organization obviously loves him. And just continue to be all he can be. Because everything is right there for you. Everything is in the palm of his hands. Now he just has to continue to working, continue to eclipse those goals he has.


How tough was it not to be part of the Team USA experience overseas last summer when you and Tatum would have finally got the opportunity to share the court together? And how much would you like to join forces on an Olympic team down the road?

Beal: Oh, that was heartbreaking. For sure. But it was no one's fault. That's the crazy part. But, for me, it was definitely a trip, it was even a different feel from the All-Star games, right? You have so many guys, talented guys, who have to sacrifice their offensive abilities and what they do on a team for the betterment of that team. That’s tough to do. And, at the same time, it's fun because you kind of tap into another side of a player, right? And get to embrace how it is playing with that player. 

And playing with Jayson is something we've always talked about and dreamed about. Like we've never had that chance, we've never had the opportunity. Even in pickup, at times, we are rarely — rarely -- on the same team. We’re, more or less, always competing against each other. But to be able to be in that atmosphere and to play practices with each other, play in a few exhibition games, that was unbelievable. It was just something like we never would have dreamed of two St. Louis kids from the exact same neighborhood, being at this elite level, playing and representing our country. Not in million years would you dream that. So to see it happen was awesome. Hopefully next Olympics we make it happen — 2024. I'm excited about it."