By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Jayson Tatum’s scoring ability is what made him such a coveted prospect in the 2017 NBA Draft, but the 19-year-old is showing early on that he can make a big impact without putting a lot of points on the board.
The rookie continued to show off his impressive skill set on Monday in the Celtics’ 108-94 win over the Spurs, especially on the defensive end. He was as active as anyone in white & green as a defender, constantly using his length to contest shots. He racked up three blocks and finished fourth on the team behind only Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, and Jaylen Brown with a plus-10 rating.
Tatum contributed just seven points of his own on offense, but he was second on the team only to Horford with 11 rebounds, all on defense. He is fifth among all rookies with seven rebounds per game and second with 1.1 blocks through his first seven games. Entering Tuesday, the Celtics lead the NBA with a 95.6 defensive rating, and Tatum has been a surprisingly big part of that.
Horford took notice of how well Tatum and the Celtics’ other young players performed in their own end.
“I think Tatum was great defensively,” Horford said, via MassLive’s Tom Westerholm. “He was awesome rebounding the ball. So I’ve just been very impressed with their poise and their focus from game to game, because it’s not easy. And I know it’s early, but we’re been building some good habits.”
Perhaps most impressive is that Tatum is third among all rookies in minutes per game with 33.1, which is behind only the Lakers’ Lonzo Ball and the 76ers’ Ben Simmons. The Gordon Hayward injury may have necessitated an uptick in playing time, but it’s not like Tatum hasn’t earned it.
Tatum is still just 19 and will likely hit the proverbial “rookie wall” at some point, and he obviously made his share of mistakes on offense against the Spurs. But overall, he has not looked like a rookie so far – and he’s showing how good he can be at both ends of the court.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.