Celtics

A year later, Jayson Tatum learns the best lesson of all from Kobe Bryant experience

A year later, Jayson Tatum learns the best lesson of all from Kobe Bryant experience

The maturation of Jayson Tatum has been obvious based solely on his preseason shot chart — an analytics Picasso with the majority of his attempts coming either beyond the 3-point arc or near the rim.

That maturation was obvious on Friday night when Tatum waved for Enes Kanter to set a screen near the 3-point arc so that Tatum could run a high pick-and-roll then probed his way to an easy layup.

But what Tatum said after Friday’s game confirmed for certain that a maturation has occurred as Tatum took complete ownership of his sophomore season and downplayed the suggestion that a summer workout with Kobe Bryant somehow contributed to his penchant for low-percentage mid-range shots.

“I've seen all the people talking about the de-Kobe-ing. Kobe didn’t teach me anything bad,” Tatum told reporters in Orlando following Boston’s breezy preseason triumph. “Everything we talked about and he showed me was great. Last year, with the jump I didn’t make that everybody expected, it was not his fault. He’s one of the greatest ever, so everything he taught me — I’m very grateful and it helped me.

“I’ve got to take responsibility for how I played last year, not being as big of a jump as people thought. But I’m still going to shoot the mid-range.”

Tatum really doesn’t need to apologize for his sophomore season. Yes, his shot profile was less than ideal and his 3-point shooting dipped (he still shot a solid 37.3 percentage; it simply wasn’t the blistering 43.4 percent he shot as a rookie). And he still had the best on-court net rating among Celtics players with at least 1,000 minutes of court time (yes, better even than All-NBA second-teamer Kyrie Irving).

Expectations for Tatum, individually, were simply as out of control as they were for the entire 2018-19 Celtics team. Tatum’s biggest crime was not making as pronounced a leap as many expected given the way he shined in the 2018 playoffs.

So with every mid-range shot that clanged off the back iron after Tatum hesitated to attack off the dribble, Bryant became a purple-and-gold punchline. What else could possibly explain why Tatum wasn’t emerging as the surefire All-Star that he had been anointed from the very moment he dunked on LeBron James in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference finals?

Tatum could have simply gone along with the de-Kobe-ing chatter. He could have made it his scapegoat. Instead, he owned it.

“I got better last year, just not what people expected, not what I expected,” said Tatum. “I take full responsibility. That’s why I’m excited for this year.

“Kobe didn’t teach me any bad habits.”

No, but this whole de-Kobe chatter may have taught Tatum the best lesson of all: Ownership. He has taken full responsibility for last season and it might just be the most encouraging sign that the 2019-20 season will be different for both Tatum and the entire Celtics team.

A more mature Tatum takes the Celtics’ ceiling and elevates it far beyond the expectations entering the season. And every single indication, but especially Tatum’s comments Friday, suggest he’s learned from last year and has positioned himself to make the leap that most were waiting for a year ago.

BLAKELY: Ex-coach says Tacko's "room for growth is astronomical">>>

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Gordon Hayward's return will help Celtics the most in these four areas

Gordon Hayward's return will help Celtics the most in these four areas

BOSTON — With Gordon Hayward set to return possibly as early as Monday night’s game against Cleveland, he’ll be rejoining a squad that’s playing great basketball which has them among the NBA’s top teams.

But here’s the thing. 

Before suffering a fourth metacarpal fracture in his left hand which has been surgically repaired, Hayward and the Celtics were playing the best basketball of any team in the league. 

Can they get back to where they were with Hayward?

If they do, look for Boston to make notable strides in the following areas of play. 

OFFENSIVE OPTIONS

Now keep in mind, even when Hayward was healthy, the Celtics weren’t exactly killin’ the game with a ton of points or red-hot shooting. 

What they did more than anything else was create a pick-your-poison scenario on a game-to-game basis for defenses.

While there’s some element of that still around in his absence, there’s no debate that Hayward’s presence makes Boston a much more dangerous team to defend. 

And upon his return, the Celtics will be even more dangerous, thanks to the emergence of Jaylen Brown, who has been delivering All-Star quality production with Hayward out, along with the solid contributions Boston has been getting all season from Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. 

DEFENSIVE VERSATILITY

The NBA is all about creating mismatches on the floor, so teams with the ability to switch effectively on defense will find success. The return of Hayward gives Boston another body who has the size, strength and mobility to defend multiple positions. 

When he was healthy, the Celtics' defensive rating of 101.5 was the fifth-best mark in the NBA, which was surprising when you consider they lost defensive anchors Al Horford (Philadelphia) and Aron Baynes (Phoenix) in the offseason.

Boston’s defensive rating without Hayward dipped to 104.7, which still ranks seventh in the NBA. 

And while Hayward’s defensive ability has been questioned in the past, his defensive rating of 100.6 stacks up well relative to his teammates. 

WING DEPTH

If you want to win in the NBA, you better have wings — and that’s plural, not singular. And the Celtics have more than their share of talented ones, which is why the return of Hayward is so vital to the team’s overall success. 

Hayward has the ability to do many things on the floor, evident by his stats this season which touch on all the key categories. 

In addition to averaging 18.9 points per game, Hayward is also grabbing 7.1 rebounds to go with 4.1 assists per game.

Those are good numbers for sure. 

But what makes the Celtics so dangerous is they have not one but two others delivering similar production or better from the wing position, in Jayson Tatum (21.2 points, 7.0 rebounds) and Jaylen Brown (20.0 points, 6.9 assists).

STRONGER BENCH

The Celtics’ second unit has taken its share of hits this season because they don’t score as much as some — OK, most — other reserve groups. Of course that’s partly because Boston has one of the highest-scoring starting fives in the NBA, which means limited opportunities for the backups and thus, less points. 

Because of that, it puts a greater premium on their bench players to come in and impact the game at the defensive end of the floor. 

And the return of Gordon Hayward will provide that group some much-needed depth with what will likely be the return of defensive ace Marcus Smart back to that unit which has been solid this season. 

According to hoopsstats.com, Boston has allowed opposing second units to score 33.4 points per game which is the fourth-fewest allowed in the NBA this season.  

That number will likely take a drop with Smart directing that group more than he is currently. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Tommy & Mike have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Celtics injury report: Robert Williams ruled out vs. Cavaliers

Celtics injury report: Robert Williams ruled out vs. Cavaliers

The Boston Celtics will be missing some size on their bench for Monday night's game vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Robert Williams has been ruled out with left hip soreness, the team announced Sunday. Rookie Romeo Langford was also ruled out as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered during a game with the Maine Red Claws.

On the bright side for Boston, Gordon Hayward could make his long-awaited return to the court after missing the last month with a fractured left hand.

Hayward originally was slated to return from his injury around Christmas.

The Celtics (16-5) and Cavaliers (5-17) will face off at 7:30 p.m. ET on Monday.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Tommy & Mike have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.