Rookies on playoff teams are supposed to come along slowly.
Last year we saw Jaylen Brown progress along a normal learning curve for a high draft pick on a good team. He played short minutes in certain situations and was pulled quickly if he made the normal rookie mistakes. His minutes and effectiveness ramped up in the last few months and he was a positive contributor in the playoffs.
That’s about what I expected from Jayson Tatum this season. I knew that he was more polished offensively but perhaps not as much defensively. In general I have been trying to guard my heart from getting too excited about a kid who hasn’t seen his 20th birthday yet.
Two preseason games and a summer league shouldn’t be enough to convince anyone otherwise. I know this in my head, but still...
It is hard not to get at least a little excited when a young shot maker makes his shots. In the first game he was clearly a little nervous about being in his first NBA game, but he settled down quickly. In his second game he got the start and looked like he belonged.
He made his first 3 shots, finished with 9 points and 5 rebounds in just 22 minutes. He just looked comfortable out there and played with maturity. Granted, part of that success was because he was playing with the starters.
Said Stevens: “I figured he would look good with those guys.”
Tatum added, “It makes it easier (starting). I’m playing with Gordon, Kyrie and Al. People not worrying about me. So when they help, I can make easy shots.”
The beautiful part about that statement is that it should be true all year. Many high draft pick rookies are shoved into the starting lineup and given the keys to the car right away. Others are buried on the bench until they can prove their worth. Tatum, on the other hand, has been billed as the most NBA-ready rookie and thus far he’s been living up to the reputation.
Regardless of who starts the games, you could easily see a situation where Tatum is contributing enough to force himself into many finishing lineups.
Again, you have to allow a young player to make rookie mistakes. Heaping oversized expectations on him at an early age is a dangerous game. But Tatum was the third pick in the draft and the Celtics have repeated often that they would have taken him 1st overall. So the expectations are going to be high regardless. It would be disappointing if he doesn’t develop into an All Star talent at some point.
The question is how quickly can he rise up that learning curve? The general consensus around the league is that the Celtics are still a piece or two short of challenging the Cavs. What if Tatum can be enough of a difference maker early on to tip the scales?
There I go again, letting my heart get carried away. Forget I wrote this. Just assume he’ll be terrible and hope to be pleasantly surprised. That’s the better plan.