BOSTON (CBS) — The evolution of Jayson Tatum has been apparent throughout his four-year career with the Boston Celtics. Gregg Popovich has noticed it from afar, but the Spurs coach is getting a closer look at Tatum’s ascension to superstardom as the duo works together once again on Team USA.

Popovich is well aware of Tatum’s offensive prowess from their NBA meetings. Tatum dropped a career-high 60 points on Pop’s Spurs back in April, part of a downright dominant run for the Celtics forward to close the 2021 season. And he has plenty to compare this current version of Tatum to, after Popovich coached him in the summer of 2019 during the FIBA World Cup.

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They’re now reunited as Team USA prepares for the Tokyo Olympics later this month. Speaking from the team’s training camp in Las Vegas, Popovich lauded Tatum’s evolution into not just a dangerous scoring machine, but a talented defender as well.

“During that camp [in 2019] and from that time to now, under Brad’s tutelage, he’s become more of a two-way player,” Popovich said of Tatum after Team USA’s practice on Tuesday. “He’s way more confident, he’s developed more skills, and on top of that, he’s more aggressive and he knows he can dominate people. He’s much different going into this situation than before.”

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Hearing one of the coaching GOATs say such wonderful things about their rising superstar should make Celtics fans giddy this summer, especially after the team had such a disappointing campaign in 2021. Tatum is primed for big things for Team USA this summer, after his 2019 run on the US Men’s National Team was cut short by an ankle injury.

“We were hugely disappointed when he got hurt, let me put it that way,” Popovich said of two summers ago. “He was going to be our go-to guy and he was just finding his legs, so to speak. Not totally confident, not realizing maybe how good he could be at both ends of the floor.”

Team USA stumbled to a seventh-place finish two years ago, but with a healthy — and ultra-confident — Tatum, the sky is the limit in Tokyo.

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CBSBoston.com Staff