By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Life is great for Jayson Tatum, the 19-year-old rookie who is doing some pretty incredible things for the Boston Celtics.
He’s looked like anything but a teenager over his first 25 NBA games, draining shots for the Celtics with relative ease. Knocked for his shooting during his one season at Duke, when he hit just 34 percent of his attempts from behind the three-point line, Tatum leads the NBA with a 51.3 percent shooting percentage from downtown this season.
The rookie knocked down his first four bids from long distance on Monday night, and when he didn’t put up a shot from behind the line, he used a sweet hesitation move for an easy driving layup. Tatum dropped 14 points in the first half of Monday night’s 111-100 win over the Bucks, and finished the night with 17 points off 5-for-6 shooting.
Yeah, things are going tremendously for a rookie thrust into a bigger role following Gordon Hayward’s season ending injury on opening night, and Tatum has been more than up to the task. But, like most of us elders, the teenager still thinks back to what could have been if he were still in college. He admits that he misses the friends he made along the way, and though he didn’t say it, he probably wouldn’t mind another college bash or two. Tatum also thinks back to taking the floor at Cameron for the Blue Devils, an atmosphere that is hard to match during the NBA’s regular season.
So he, understandably, does miss college just a tad. But there’s one aspect that Tatum doesn’t miss at all, because he is, after all, a 19-year-old.
“I miss college a little bit, but I didn’t really like going to class that much. So I’m good where I’m at,” he told reporters after Monday night’s win.
The kid still has homework, but his assignments are much different than those that a college student procrastinates over on a nightly basis. Now he has game film to watch and plenty of shots to put up, assignments he has had no issues completing.
“I think that you worry about the transition from high school to college, and from college to the NBA, but I think that he’s doing his due diligence in terms of getting the work in every single day,” Celtics guard Kyrie Irving said of his rookie teammate. “[He’s] doing what he needs to do, being a professional, learning how to consistently do that, and now it’s paying dividends.”
Tatum made sure to take (and make) plenty of extra shots ahead of the draft, which is what convinced the Celtics to trade away the No. 1 overall pick and draft Tatum third overall in June. It was a move that was met with much criticism at the time, but now is just a silly afterthought as Tatutm drains shot after shot after shot for the 21-win Celtics.
“I worked on it day-in and day-out, trying to get drafted as high as possible,” Tatum said following Monday’s win. “I was working on the things that people said I couldn’t do well, and shooting threes was one of them.”
“When he came in for his workout, he made a lot of shots,” recalled Celtics head coach coach Brad Stevens. “And it looked effortless, and that’s usually a pretty good sign.
“It didn’t look like it was just one of those days where he was hitting everything,” added Stevens. “He would miss two in a row, but it wouldn’t dissuade him from hitting the next one. He had no thought about making the next five; he just kind of kept shooting it.”
That is what’s best about Tatum as he guides his way through his rookie season; he never seems rattled on the floor for long stretches of time. Whenever he struggles in the first half, he tends to right the ship and have a monster second half. He’s become a reliable option for the Celtics, one they can count on to hit shots night-in and night-out. A rookie wall will probably hit at some point, though Tatum has done nothing conventional as a teenage rookie on an Eastern Conference contender.
He may miss the fun that goes with being a college student, but Tatum has certainly adapted to being a professional at a level beyond his years.