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CelticsBlog exit interview: Jayson Tatum

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In his first season under the harsh lights of stardom, Jayson Tatum embraced the challenge in a year that should chart his course for the future.

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Six Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Disclaimer: Hello, reader. So, with the Boston Celtics’ 2019-20 season officially in the books, we at CelticBlog decided to take a look back at the season for each individual player. Teams do a similar exercise with their players in the form of exit interviews. In the spirit of creativity, I elected to get a bit creative and do something along those lines.

Of course, I could not get Jayson Tatum to sit down for an exit interview with me. So, just to be clear, JAYSON TATUM SAID NONE OF THE FOLLOWING. I simply created with a fictitious back-and-forth that, above all else, seeks to highlight the awesome year Tatum had.

Exit Interviewer: Hello, Jayson. Thank you for coming in for your exit interview.

Fake Jayson Tatum: My pleasure.

Exit Interviewer: Let’s start at the beginning. Boston underwent a sizeable roster change during the off season, most notably the departures of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. When the dust settled, there was this unofficial feeling that the Celtics were now your team and that created expectations for another breakout season even with an All-Star like Kemba Walker on the team.

Fake Jayson Tatum: Yeah, I definitely felt those expectations. I had generated so much hype during those 2018 Playoffs only to fall flat as a sophomore amid that disappointing season. As you said, when our off season was over, there was a clear opportunity for me to seize control and thrive. Kemba is certainly capable of being that guy, but his personality isn’t one to come in and step into that spotlight. It was just a natural opening for me and the organization has instilled a level of confidence in me since I got here to where I felt comfortable filling that void at the top.

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics - Game Five Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Exit Interviewer: And you did right from the jump. It’s funny, though. You were posting career-highs across the board. You stepped up to the challenge of being a leading man by hitting a game winner against New York and dropped Paul George in that overtime loss to the Clippers. You were named to your first All-Star Game in late January. Yet it wasn’t until those games against the two LA teams back in February where you really began to command the attention of the national media.

Fake Jayson Tatum: You’re probably right about that. I think those were the two games that changed the direction of my career. I had 39 in that double-OT win over the Clippers and then 41 in that loss to the Lakers at Staples. We’re talking two of the top five defenses during the regular season and two of the best players at my position. I know in the grand scheme of things two regular season outings don’t mean much, but these two gave me confidence that I deserved to be mentioned in the same breath as LeBron and Kawhi.

Los Angeles Clippers v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Exit Interviewer: And you further justified that notion with your play moving forward. You won Player of the Month for February. From the first of that month through the end of the regular season — including the seeding games — you averaged 27.1 points on a shooting line of .474/.463/.776 with 7.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.9 blocks. Those are super duper star numbers, and you had just turned 22-years-old!

Fake Jayson Tatum: It’s a testament to the work I put in over the off season. I didn’t want steady growth. I wanted to come out swinging in my third year to assert my standing in the league.

Exit Interviewer: That work paid dividends not just in your counting numbers but in the way you went about producing them. One of the criticisms you took on last year was in regards to your shot selection. Your free throws per game dipped from you rookie season and a good chunk of your points came from the mid-range, a good shot to have in your arsenal but as more of a last resort than go-to option.

Fake Jayson Tatum: That just came down to breaking down the film and realizing the type of looks I should be hunting, at the rim and beyond the arc.

Exit Interviewer: Which explains a career-high free-throw attempts per game. Even more impressive, you launched a career-high 7.1 threes per game yet increased your efficiency to a sparkling 40.3 percent. And these are not your standard catch-and-shoot looks. You and Damian Lillard were the only two players among the top-10 in pull-up 3-pointers per game to shoot north of 40.0 percent.

Fake Jayson Tatum: With the emphasis of the pick-and-roll in today’s NBA, that pull-up shot is well worth having. I think it certainly paid off by putting the defense on its heels with a level of unpredictability I can take advantage of.

Exit Interviewer: The Celtics then entered the playoffs as the #3 seed. You’re one of their two All-Stars and their leading scorer. After an incredible regular season, there was no doubt as to whose team it was. But there was some underlying hesitation to fully anoint you among the cream of the NBA’s crop until you could do it in the playoffs.

Fake Jayson Tatum: I did do it in the playoffs. Remember 2018? When I came within a single point of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time rookie playoff scoring record?

Exit Interviewer: Yes I do, but some would say that you weren’t “the guy” back then as you are now. Holding that position comes with a new set of challenges that, to your credit, never seemed to bother you. In fact, you took your game to another level in the postseason.

Fake Jayson Tatum: That’s what the greats do.

Exit Interviewer: Well, 25.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals are certainly great and did plenty to shut those doubters up. The improvements in rebounding and passing speak for themselves. It helped you guys take down the defending champions in the second round before losing to the Miami Heat.

Fake Jayson Tatum: Yeah, missing out on the Finals stings, especially since we blew so many great opportunities against Miami, leading big in Games 1 and 2. Just another teaching moment for us to take in and use going forward.

Exit Interviewer: What’s on the docket for your training sessions this off season?

Fake Jayson Tatum: Well, Miami really did a number on his with that zone. As of right now, the Eastern Conference runs through them so just watching film and figuring out points of attack against that coverage and what not. Just continue to hone my skills and improve defensively.

Exit Interviewer: You were pretty good there this year. According to Cleaning The Glass, Boston was 5.2 points per 100 possessions better with you at the defensive end. For all the attention you draw offensively, your length and athleticism really make you a plus at the other end.

Fake Jayson Tatum: I try.

Exit Interviewer: You looking forward to that nice contract extension coming your way?

Fake Jayson Tatum: Can’t say it hasn’t crossed my mind.

Exit Interviewer: As it should.