Jaylen Brown and Tatum indisputably lead the Celtics to start this season. Their young teammates may not match their talent, but can focus on the same incremental improvement that got Boston’s lead duo where they are.
Jayson Tatum names efficiency as the theme of his fourth NBA season. He reached landmark statistics on field goal percentages that lagged around 43% in the playoffs. Names like Kevin Durant reflect the marksmanship Tatum hopes to achieve this year. One of the greatest scorers ever started his career with five seasons below 50% shooting.
Tatum is still looking to shake the 2-for-18 nights and maximize each possession, the philosophy of the team he now will lead through another season of uncertainty. His first round went well. He wants more. With players older than him looking to him as the veteran, his ascent needs to remain rapid while slowing the game down and showing players around him steady progressions can quickly add up.
“I’m kind of a lead by example guy,” he said “But I’ll be vocal when I need to be.”
The Celtics had short of 70 days off between their Game 6 loss to the Miami Heat and the start of training camp last week. Some players needed the time away from the game, Brad Stevens noted. Tatum salvaged the two months of opportunity, opting for a narrow focus over a wide one in his individual training. He and his trainer Drew Hanlen emphasized finishing through contact and three point range.
Tatum expanded on his personal and team goals after Tuesday’s practice at TD Garden, where the rotation regulars and newcomers mixed in for the team’s first scrimmage action. Footage showed Tatum spinning into a foul line jumper that softly swished through, before he spoke about taking on a leadership role this year. Despite the condensed focus of his offseason, Stevens said what Tatum gained through playoff experience was more valuable than any offseason workout.
“I’m still extremely young, so I think every part of my game can get better,” Tatum said. “Continue to get stronger, extending my range, being able to efficiently shoot deeper either off the dribble or off the catch. Finishing better through contact and becoming even more of a defensive presence”
Grant Williams similarly said he only took three or four days off after leaving the NBA Bubble. Improvement immediately became a focus for a group that felt like it should have reached the NBA Finals.
That, COVID-19 and health altered Stevens’ training camp approach, toward a longer ramping-up period that left scrimmaging out of the team’s plans until Friday — when they went 5-on-5 inside TD Garden for the first time since March.
“It’s been a while,” Tatum said. “I felt good driving in, being back, being in the locker room.”
Tatum offered props to Payton Pritchard’s intensity and Aaron Nesmith’s shooting prowess. His facilitating for players like them became a luxury for Boston amid a plethora of ball-handlers from Kemba Walker to Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward last season. Hayward’s injury increased the need for Tatum to lead the offense. Now his departure and Walker’s knee ailment deem it a necessity.
That led Tatum to study the Warriors and the way they meshed, with talented stars enhancing each other more than disrupting each other’s production. Moving off the ball, he stressed, is the key. The energy Durant played with off the ball matched the explosion and control he created on the ball.
“Making harder cuts getting the ball, creating more space on my defender and being able to read the defense,” he said. “ Especially early, if they’re trapping me or double teaming me, being able to find the open man to knock down shots, where they shouldn’t be able to double team me because we have so much talent on this team.”