By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics were back in TD Garden on Thursday, the first time they’d stepped foot on their home floor since last March. It was a return to some form of normalcy for Tatum, a true sense that basketball is just around the corner.READ MORE: Anyone Age 12 And Up Now Eligible For COVID Vaccines In Massachusetts
“It felt good being back. Obviously, it’s been a while,” Tatum told reporters on Thursday. “It felt good just driving in, walking back, being in the locker room, being on the court.”
While there may not be fans to witness it for much of the 2020-21 season, Tatum is looking to take his game to the next level. His third NBA season saw Tatum rise to star status around the league, earning him his first career All-Star nod and a spot on the All-NBA Third Team by season’s end. He averaged a career-high 23.4 points, seven rebounds and three assists during the regular season, and he carried Boston throughout much of the postseason.
But losing in the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in his career has Tatum hungry for more. In order for the Celtics to finally get over the hump and get to the NBA Finals, Tatum understands that he needs to make the most out of every opportunity he gets, whether the ball is in his hand or not.
Tatum attempted a career-high 18.6 shots per game last season, including 7.1 from three-point range. He matched his 45 percent shooting from his sophomore season as a pro, and upped his three-point shooting from 37.3 percent to 40.3 percent. But considering he’s taking a lot more shots than he was two years ago, Tatum knows he needs to be much more efficient.
While those overall numbers are still pretty good, Tatum is still probably a bit haunted from a few of his less-than-stellar evenings. He began bubble play with a 2-for-18 showing against the Bucks, and turned in 5-for-15 and 5-for-18 evenings against the Raptors in the East semis. He shot just 26.4 percent from three-point range against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, attempting nearly nine triples per game.
For the Celtics to reach the promised land, Tatum is going to have to be a lot better when it matters most.READ MORE: It Happens Here: Former Kingston Oyster Farmer Pivots To Fashion With 'The Oyster Bag'
“I’m still extremely young, so I think every part of my game can get better,” he said Thursday. “Continue to get stronger, extending my range, being able to efficiently shoot deeper either off the dribble or off the catch. Finishing better through contact and becoming even more of a defensive presence.”
To improve his efficiency, Tatum isn’t relying on taking thousands of shots in an empty gym. Instead, he’s hitting the video room to study others greats, including Kevin Durant during his spectacular run with the Warriors.
“I study a lot of guys that score at a high, efficient rate. If you look at — especially when KD played for the Warriors — all of those guys moved really well off the ball with energy,” he explained. “The ball finds energy. It’s kind of as simple as that.”
Tatum is aiming to be even more aggressive, whether he has the ball in his hands or not. And if a good shot isn’t there, he won’t be forcing it.
“Making harder cuts getting the ball, creating more space on my defender and being able to read the defense,” he said. “Especially early, if they’re trapping me or double teaming me, being able to find the open man to knock down shots, where they shouldn’t be able to double team me because we have so much talent on this team.”
While Tatum looks like he’ll be a volume scorer for years to come, he wants to be the total package. A guy who can feed teammates for easy buckets, and then lock down the opposition on the other end. All of those factors will be the difference between Tatum being an All-Star and an MVP candidate — and the Celtics from being a promising team in the East to a threat to win it all.MORE NEWS: Coronavirus In Massachusetts: Today's Developments
Boston’s success hinges on the advances that Tatum and Jaylen Brown make in 2020-21. If Tatum can turn himself into an all-around offensive threat, one that could just as easily help a teammate drop 30 as he could score 30 himself, that’s bad news for the rest of the league.