addByline("Marc D'Amico", "Celtics.com", "Marc_DAmico");
BOSTON – How have Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, two 21-and-under wings, proven this season that age is just a number? The answer lies in the presence of two of their teammates.
In Al Horford and Kyrie Irving, the Celtics have two four-time All-Stars who approach their on-court and off-court lives as basketball players in a truly professional manner. That type of example, as Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle pointed out earlier this season, can make a profound impact on young players like Brown and Tatum.
“When you pair really good talent with really good leadership on teams,” Carlisle said before facing the Celtics on Nov. 20, “guys get better faster.”
There is no better example of that fact than in Boston, as Brad Stevens and Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski recently discussed on Coach K’s radio show on SiriusXM.
Stevens had just completed a meeting with Tatum before calling in to Coach K’s show Tuesday afternoon. Boston’s coach revealed the message that he had relayed to the 19-year-old rookie just moments before.
“I just told him, ‘You need to think about how special it is to be great every night,’” Stevens said. “It’s just different. It’s just different, and there’s not many guys that can do it. And you have to appreciate the guys that can.���
In other words, Jayson: appreciate Al and Kyrie, and take note of how they got to where they are today.
Stevens said he relays similar messages to all of Boston’s young players, including Brown.
Coach K, in watching Horford from afar and after coaching Irving (and Tatum) for a year at Duke, agreed with the premise of Stevens’ message, which directly correlates with what Carlisle said in mid-November.
“You have two of the really brilliant – not smart – players, and talented (players), with Kyrie and Al,” Coach K said.
Their leadership abilities are on par with their on-court skills as well, and that’s critical both to the success of the Celtics and to the development of Boston’s young players.
Horford is a seasoned leader, and he has been such for more than a half-decade, beginning with the Atlanta Hawks and carrying over to his first two seasons with the Boston Celtics. He does everything in a professional manner, from his eating habits, to his work ethic, to his family life and community work off the court.
“I don’t think you could have a better veteran to lead,” Stevens said of Horford, “because he is consistent in his approach, he doesn’t waste his time, he doesn’t mince his words – when he speaks, it’s worth listening to because he doesn’t talk a lot – and he always, always is about the team.”
Not all rookies come into the league with an “all-about-the-team” attitude. Heck, some agent-player combos have steered themselves away from the Celtics in the last two drafts because they were more about their individual opportunity than they were about the success of the team that was drafting them.
Brown, Tatum and the rest of the young Celtics (there are 11 total who are 25 or younger, discounting Irving) see the way Horford goes about his business, and it’s infectious.
The same can be said for Irving, who requested a trade from the Cavaliers this past offseason with the assumed intention of being able to step into a leadership role. In Cleveland, LeBron James was the leader, and Irving was in the shadow. In Boston, Irving is side-by-side with Horford, working in tandem to set the bar for Boston’s team on a daily basis.
“My feeling is that Kyrie has become a better leader, quicker, because he feels it’s more on him,” commented Coach K.
Stevens then gave his insider perspective on what Irving has given the Celtics from a leadership angle.
“The thing that I’m really appreciative of is he has really, really tried to just be one of the guys, and I think that has been good,” Stevens said. “He treats everyone from our equipment staff, training staff, coaching staff, players, PR staff, all the same. Players, whether they’re 30 or 19, he treats them all the same.”
That is unique in the NBA. That instills belief in young players that they belong, and it shows them that they should never place themselves on a pedestal and look down upon their own teammates, regardless of how successful they may become.
“Win, lose or draw,” Stevens added, “he comes back the next day to work, and he’s in here every day, and he’s a pleasure to be around.”
Coach K commented on what he has seen in Irving from afar.
“I think he always has a strong face,” the Hall-of-Famer said before explaining. “I tell our guys all the time, ‘You don’t always speak with words, you speak with how you look,’ and I think he’s become much more vocal, but he really has a strong leader’s face.”
Krzyzewski continued, “He wanted the opportunity to expand his abilities, and they’re not just shooting and ball handling – they’re leadership-wise.”
There is no doubt that Brown and Tatum have reaped the benefits of Irving’s new opportunity with the Celtics, which has been coupled with Horford’s refined leadership abilities.
Think about it: What would Brown and Tatum look like if they were instead on a lottery-bound team that did not have any established stars in a leadership role? Would they be learning the right way to approach their day-to-day life? Would they be able to watch, in person, how special it is to be great every night?
In Boston, they have all of that, as Stevens and Coach K outlined, and that’s a big reason why Brown and Tatum are proving that age is just a number if you’re in the right situation.