Boston’s Jayson Tatum getting a taste of stardom, NBA grind at Summer League

Getty Images
9 Comments

LAS VEGAS — The idea is to just give them a taste.

With high draft picks heading into Summer League, the idea is just to give them a small sampling of what is to come at the next level, then see how they react. Summer League has given Tatum a taste of NBA stardom — he was wearing a custom T-shirt after the game Sunday with his likeness on it (from a previous haircut, but still it looked good).

Summer League also has given Jayson Tatum a taste of how grinding the NBA travel schedule can be.

Tatum played in his fifth game in seven days Sunday night in Las Vegas. The Celtics played three in Utah before coming to Nevada for another two back-to-back Saturday and Sunday. Tatum has been a standout through those games — and he had the crowd oohing and ahhing with his fade-away jumper in the first half Sunday — but he was 0-of-3 in the second half and his legs were just not under him.

“Today was a little tougher, back-to-back, I was tired, body was aching, but I think (the Celtics) had a more well-rounded game….” Tatum said. “There’s going to be days like this, back-to-back, you’re feeling like this, but the team won so that’s all that matters.”

It’s not all that matters to the team, which is why there is a sense around Las Vegas that the Celtics may shut him down for the rest of Summer League. They know what they got now, he got his taste, no reason to risk injury for these games.

Tatum entered the 2017 NBA Draft considered the most NBA ready of the players, and it’s easy to see why — his confidence and smooth moves make him look like an NBA veteran. He is a very fluid athlete with handles who can score in isolation beautifully, and his left hand is better than expected.

His go-to move is a fadeaway that is NBA ready — he’s hit a few tough ones Sunday, including one with Caleb Swanigan in his face.

“He makes tough shots, something that’s hard to do at the next level,” teammate Jaylen Brown said. “Playing in the NBA is going to be hard, but he’s a shot-maker and that makes it easy for everybody when he’s scoring the ball.”

Boston has played Tatum and Brown a lot together, something that could happen in the NBA season as well. They both said they feel their on-court chemistry is improving.

“They’re strong, they both play similar but they both are big time creators that have special gifts,” said Celtics Summer League Coach Walter McCarty. “They run the floor, they shoot the long ball, and they can play defense.

“If they just continue to work and they want it, they can be as good as they want to get. They both love being in the gym and shooting, they just have to keep developing. They do that and they’ll be just fine.”

Tatum going to get buckets at the NBA level — even the shots he misses everyone just assumes will go in. Still, guys who make tough shots can struggle to adjust. On Sunday, Portland was adapting and closing out hard when he was going to fade-away. He tried to show a counter move, but his legs just failed him.

He needs to finish better going to the rim, and his decision making will have to adjust to the better level of athlete — he was stripped on a drive going 1-on-4, then was pulled aside by a Celtic coach after. He picked up an offensive charge on another dive to the rim. Because he likes to isolate he can be a little slow making decisions, which come the regular season means defenses can set.

Still, there is a lot to like in Tatum — he can step in next year and give the Celtics quality minutes, and some buckets.

For now, he’s just getting a taste.

“Just getting acclimated,” Tatum said. “Be with the team, the coaches, and just get comfortable… It’s a process. I’m getting more comfortable each and every day, it takes time.”