The Boston Celtics are 1-1 in the preseason. Their deep bench players crumbled in the fourth quarter against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night, fumbling a 19-point lead built by Boston’s regulars. It’s preseason, though, so what matters most is that the rotation players get enough reps ahead of the season.
And they have been. Jaylen Brown hasn’t lost a step since last year, Malcolm Brogdon looks super comfortable in his new role as the team’s sixth man, Grant Williams is showing off some new moves, and Sam Hauser has seemingly emerged as the perfect Danilo Gallinari replacement. All of the usual suspects have looked great.
Except for Jayson Tatum.
The All-NBA First-Teamer has struggled through the first two preseason games. He’s shot just 10-of-27 (37.0%) from the field and 2-of-15 (13.3%) from three-point range so far, including an 0-of-7 performance from deep against the Raptors.
But despite his slow start, Tatum isn’t worried. In fact, he sees it as part of a pattern, noting that he often starts slow, but heats up as the season progresses.
“This is what I do. I start off slow, you know what I’m saying? But no, I ain’t worried. It’s preseason; don’t put too much stock into it. We’ve had many talks like this. I know what I can do. I know that I can shoot. I’m not worried. I still impact the game. One day I might make 10 3’s, and then we’ll forget about it.”
Looking at Tatum’s numbers from last season, he’s right. In three preseason games last year, Tatum shot 20-of-50 from the field (40.0%) and 6-of-22 from deep (27.3%). And while most fans want to see the superstar get his legs under him, he isn’t concerned in the slightest. Instead, he’s focused on enjoying the preseason with the Celtics. He said that he’s having a great time so far.
“I’m just happy to be playing. It’s fun the way we’re moving the ball, everybody’s touching it, impacting the game. It’s just been fun these last two games.”
Toward the end of last game, Tatum was spotted laughing it up with Blake Griffin, who the Celtics just signed to a one-year deal, on the bench. Showing out in the preseason would give the fans a nice show, but getting a general feel for the team and the players is higher up on Boston’s priority list at the moment, especially considering the turbulent offseason they are trying to turn the page on.
After a string of unfortunate events, the Celtics are entering the new year with a new head coach, a handful of new players, and a couple of injured frontcourt players. Joe Mazzulla and his team will have to figure things out on the fly, and because of that, they will have to lean on some of the veteran players.
Mazzulla has taken the first two games to look at different lineups and feel out the potential rotation. As mentioned, Hauser has materialized as a contender to earn serious minutes. And he’s even starting to carve out a friendly rivalry with Tatum.
While Tatum and Grant Williams battle over who is stronger, Tatum and Hauser are now locked in a debate over who the better shooter is. As one would expect, Tatum thinks the answer is himself.
“I tell him all the time: If people left me that wide open and all I had to do was catch-and-shoot, I would make a lot more shots as well. So I tell Sam he should send me a thank you card for being on the floor together. Sam is obviously a great shooter and his game has come a long way. I’m happy for him. I’m happy he’s getting these opportunities, and he’s obviously making the most out of it. We’re going to need him.”
That being said, some video evidence surfaced of Tatum praising Hauser’s shooting ability in practice. He was gushing about Hauser’s shooting, telling the sophomore forward, “you can shoot, bro.”
Hauser is taking himself in the debate and said that Tatum “claims he’s a better shooter than me, but I don’t think he thinks that’s true.”
So far this preseason, the competition isn’t close. Tatum has shot a disappointing 2-of-15 from distance, while Hauser has been on fire, shooting a blistering-hot 9-of-13. There’s plenty of time for Tatum to catch up — an entire regular season of time — but the superstar doesn’t have a leg to stand on in the preseason.
As the year goes on, expect Tatum to pick things up as he normally does. But for now, just know that he’s not worried about his struggles. He’s just focused on playing winning basketball and gelling with his teammates, even if that does include some friendly competition.