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BOSTON – Jayson Tatum logged one of the most impressive rookie seasons in Boston Celtics history, and now he’s being rightfully recognized for it.
The NBA announced Tuesday that the first-year forward has been selected to the All-Rookie First Team, alongside Los Angeles’ Kyle Kuzma, Chicago’s Lauri Markkanen, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons.
After being drafted No. 3 overall in the 2017 Draft, it was unclear initially how big of a role Tatum would have with the Celtics. He was joining a stacked roster that included three former All-Stars along with an abundance of rising talent, so he knew that he’d have to fight in order to earn significant playing time.
Tatum’s window of opportunity would open up sooner than expected. On Opening Night, the Celtics lost star forward Gordon Hayward to a season-ending leg injury, and they immediately looked toward Tatum to help fill the void.
The 19-year-old stepped in, unfazed by the task at hand, and delivered one of the most well-rounded, season-long efforts on the team.
Tatum would wind up starting a team-high 80 games, leading the C's in minutes (2,438), 3-point percentage (43.4 percent) and steals (83).
He produced averages of 13.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.0 steals per game, while helping to lead the team to 55 regular-season wins and the second seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
It turned out to be far more of a role than the Celtics initially expected out of Tatum, but his stepping up was monumental to their success.
“We probably anticipated coming into the year, a guy that comes off the bench, plays 20-25 minutes a game, grows at a rate that everyone feels comfortable with. And then we just threw him to the wolves instead,” coach Brad Stevens said ahead of Game 81 of the season back on April 10. “He’s been able to handle it, and he’s been great.”
In comparison to previous Celtics rookies, Tatum’s greatness was surpassed by very few.
The St. Louis native set franchise marks with 105 3-point makes and a 43.4 percent clip from 3-point range (fifth highest among rookies in NBA history). He became the fifth rookie in NBA history, and the first since Stephen Curry in 2009-10, to record 1,000-plus points and shoot at least 40.0% from beyond the arc.
He also placed himself sixth on Boston’s all-time rookie blocks list (83) and eighth on its rookie scoring list (1,112) points.
Tatum is the 10th Celtic to ever be named to the All-Rookie First Team, and the first since Paul Pierce's selection following the 1998-99 season.
Though Pierce admitted earlier in May that Tatum “is a way better player than I was as a rookie.”
Tatum cracked the top five in just a few statistical categories among this season’s rookie class, but what placed him apart from others was his ability to win. His 55 wins were the top mark among all rookie starters, and he is also the only first-year starter left standing in the Playoffs, where he is averaging a team-high 18.0 PPG.
Tatum is hoping that his selection to the All-Rookie team is only the beginning of his hardware collection. He’s also a finalist for Rookie of the Year, along with Mitchell and Simmons.
“Talent level, I feel like if I’m not the best, I’m one or two,” Tatum recently told the Boston Globe when asked to compare himself to other rookies. “I think it’s just opportunity, the situation that you’re in, and who’s on your team. I think I’ve done all right.”
Whether or not he brings home that award as well, Tatum’s rookie season will still go down as one of the most remarkable inaugural campaigns in Celtics history. And it’s only the beginning of what should be a legendary career.