Last season, Jayson Tatum came of age. Stepping into a lead role for the Boston Celtics, shouldering an additional playmaking burden, and adapting his game to be more of a downhill threat — Tatum took a leap.
Being named to his third-straight All-Star team, making the All-NBA First Team, and competing in the NBA finals, it’s clear Tatum is one more ‘jump’ away from being a bona fide superstar. Yet, with that label of being a contending team’s star player, comes additional expectations, most notably, leadership.
“He had his moments during the regular season last year. But for me, he was very instrumental, people probably don’t know this but he was very vocal during the playoffs. Right from the beginning, staying on us, challenging our group, and giving us certain things that he felt we needed to do. He took a huge step in my eyes, and I feel like that confidence is gonna carry over to this year, and we’re gonna continue to see more of that from him,” Al Horford said after practice on Tuesday, September 27.
Leadership comes in all different forms. From the quiet leader who leaves it out on the court every night, to the vocal warrior that galvanizes their team with their words and actions. For Tatum, it was all about finding the right balance, and understanding what worked for him, and now that he’s found a formula he’s comfortable with, he’s looking to embrace the additional leadership role his play and status within the team has earned.
“I feel like I’m very vocal, I might not be the loudest guy, especially in front of the camera. But to the guys in the locker room, when we’re in practice, on the plane, or on the court, my presence is felt. We all put a lot into this game, and we all have the right to give input to each other. That’s all I try to do when I see something,” Tatum said when asked about Horford’s comments.
Last season, under Ime Udoka, there was a significant amount of discussion surrounding the notion of improving the Celtics' overall mental toughness. Far too often, we saw Boston wilt when things weren’t going their way, and to some extent, we saw that carry over into the NBA finals.
However, Tatum is hopeful that Boston’s inability to get over the finish line, coupled with the pain that followed, and the work that everyone has put in over the summer, will lead to a mental fortitude we’re yet to see from this current core.
“Just how much more mentally tough you have to be to get there (the NBA finals) and get over the hump. Give them credit, they won, they beat us. There were a lot of mental errors and mistakes that we made in the finals that we learn from,”
Unfortunately, Boston’s off-season preparations have not gone to plan, first with losing Danilo Gallinari to an ACL injury, then Robert Williams to arthroscopic knee surgery, and finally, with the suspension of Ime Udoka. As such, the Celtics' ability to navigate setbacks is already being put to the test. Yet, one thing that can help steady a rocking ship, is finding some continuity within the coaching staff and roster, and using that as a lifeline to get things moving in the right direction.
With Joe Mazzulla stepping in as the Celtics' interim head coach, and a significant carryover of last season’s playing staff, the Celtics have a solid foundation to begin turning the corner.
“Consistency has been good. Once we stepped out onto the court, it felt normal. Felt natural just to get out here, get back to it, and I feel like that’s been beneficial to everyone...Joe’s been good, it’s not like he’s a new addition, just in a new position. He hasn’t changed his character, still the same guy, a guy that everybody respects...It probably takes some time to get used to, being the voice - especially all of a sudden, but he’s been doing a great job.”
There might be a ton of expectations and pressure on Tatum and Boston’s shoulders heading into the new season, but knowing that the St. Louis native is ready to face the challenge and rise to the occasion as one of the team’s leaders, should have everybody sleeping a little easier at night as we hurtle towards the start of pre-season.