Jayson Tatum Overcome with Joy Upon Earning First All-Star Nod
BOSTON – Jayson Tatum was locked in, going through his pre-game warmups Thursday evening, when he heard the news that nearly made him erupt into tears of joy: he had just earned his first selection as an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve.
“I was surprised,” he later recounted after helping the Celtics take down the visiting Golden State Warriors, 119-104. “I wanted to cry. I didn't cry. I might cry later, though. But I'm just so grateful. It's something I'm not going to take for granted. There's only 24 guys who make the All-Star team, so I'm super thankful and I'm going to enjoy the opportunity of the moment.”
It's an opportunity that Tatum absolutely deserves. The third-year wing is averaging career-best marks of 21.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game, which makes him just one of three NBA players along with fellow All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook to post such statistics through the first half of the season.
Offensively, Tatum has increased his aggression both as a scorer and as a facilitator. He’s also made great improvements on the other end of the floor, as he is 10th in the league and leading the team in defensive win shares.
That defensive leap was highlighted ahead of Thursday night’s game by Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who spent six weeks with Tatum this past summer during international competition at the FIBA World Cup.
“He’s just so gifted. He’s so talented,” Kerr emphasized. “His rise has been, I think, expected in a lot of ways because of his talent. But that would be selling him short too because it doesn’t just happen. He’s put the work in.
The coach added, “He’s a guy who has the ability to be one of the best two-way players in the game. I think you’re seeing that defensively this year. And he has a great environment playing in this organization, playing for Brad (Stevens) and his staff. All of those things have mattered and helped him develop. I’m really happy for him because I really enjoyed him (with Team USA).”
Upping the intensity on the defensive end was something that Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich challenged Tatum to do heading into this season. Marcus Smart, who was also on that World Cup team, has seen those conversations pay off.
“He’s locked in,” Smart said. “He’s playing both ends of the floor and that's huge for us. He’s 6-foot-9 and he’s long, so when he can get up and actually pressure guys and sit down in a defensive stance, that helps us tremendously with his length. And he’s athletic, he’s quick enough to guard guys, so it's only right that he needed to do it and I’m glad Pop challenged him because it’s good for us.”
Tatum will be one of two players representing the Celtics on the All-Star team, as he joins Kemba Walker, who was voted in as a starter last week.
“Him and Kemba both, they deserve it,” said Smart. “I think Jaylen (Brown) deserves it as well, even though he didn’t make the roster, I think he deserves it. But to have those two guys represent us in that game, represent the Celtics is unique, and we’re all proud of those guys.”
And Tatum will be proud to finally slip on that All-Star jersey – a moment about which he’s been dreaming since childhood.
“I’ve been watching the All-Star game ever since I’ve been watching basketball,” he said. “I’d always get Kobe (Bryant’s) All-Star jersey and I always had aspirations of one day being in the All-Star Game. And at 21 years old, to make it a reality, I can’t put it into words. It’s a special feeling.”