Tatum Ups Historic Shooting Pace in Win vs. Bucks

BOSTON – Jayson Tatum knocked down his first four 3-point attempts of the first quarter Monday night to kick-start a 111-100 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. By the game’s end, the rookie Celtics wing had upped his 3-point percentage to a league-best 51.3 percent on the campaign, which puts him on pace for the eighth-highest single-season mark in NBA history.

Not bad for a guy who was dubbed an average shooter by many pundits in June when he entered the NBA Draft.

It’s easy to see why experts would believe that Tatum wouldn’t excel from beyond the arc, considering he shot just 34.2 percent from deep during his lone collegiate season at Duke University. But Tatum used those expectations – or lack thereof – as motivation when he began the Draft workout process.

“I worked on (my shooting) day-in and day-out, trying to get drafted as high as possible,” Tatum recalled after Monday’s win. “I was working on the things that people said I couldn’t do well, and shooting 3s was one of them.”

That hard work paid off by the time he stepped into the gym to work out for the Boston Celtics.

“When he came in for his workout, he made a lot of shots,” said C’s coach Brad Stevens. “And it looked effortless, and that’s usually a pretty good sign.

“It didn’t look like it was just one of those days where he was hitting everything,” added the coach. “He would miss two in a row, but it wouldn’t dissuade him from hitting the next one. He had no thought about making the next five; he just kind of kept shooting it.”

The Celtics liked what they saw out of Tatum, so they did not hesitate to take him with the No. 3 overall pick.

Over the summer, Tatum worked out with many of his new Celtics teammates and continued to shoot the ball well. The funny thing, however, was that he would rarely show off his long range.

“We would play pick-up games in September and he was just abusing people in the midrange,” said Al Horford. “He’d just post the ball, shake and raise, and all that. But I think coach was kind of like, ‘No, we want you to get out there and shoot the 3s and save those (midrange shots) for end-of-the-clock-type shots.”

“I think Jayson has quickly understood finding his spots on the court and taking really good shots,” continued Horford. “And if he doesn’t have a good shot, he’s putting it down, he’s creating, he’s attacking the rim.”

But still, the question lingers – why wasn’t he shooting the ball like this in college?

Kyrie Irving suggested one reason could be that Tatum was doing a lot of picking and popping at Duke in his power forward role. In Boston, he’s been utilized as a gun-slinging wing.

Another reason Irving pointed out is that Tatum does not have to worry about as many off-court responsibilities – such as classes – so now he can focus all of his energy on basketball.

“I didn’t really like going to class that much,” Tatum commented with a smile. “So I’m good where I’m at.”

Surely, Celtics fans feel the same way. As do Tatum’s teammates.

“It’s impressive how quickly he’s figured it out because it’s not easy,” Horford said of Tatum’s transition from college to the pros. “I just think he’s doing a really good job of figuring the game out and shooting the ball with confidence.”

While Horford has been pleasantly surprised by Tatum’s ability to adjust, Irving claims that he is not at all shocked by the teenager’s early contributions.

“I’ve seen Jayson play since he was a sophomore in high school. I’ve been a fan of him since then,” Irving stated with a hint of pride. “I think that you worry about the transition from high school to college, and from college to the NBA, but I think that he’s doing his due diligence in terms of getting the work in every single day, doing what he needs to do, being a professional, learning how to consistently do that, and now it’s paying dividends.”

It seems, however, that opposing teams have not yet caught on. The Bucks, for example, were not heavily contesting Tatum’s shot early Monday night. They paid dearly for that mistake, as he erupted for 14 of his 17 points during the first quarter alone.

“They were actually baiting him to shoot the ball and he just wasn’t hesitating,” said Horford. “He was right on rhythm. If they closed out, he took a dribble and took his time. It was just a lot of fun to see him have some success early, and I feel like because of those 3s he kind of opened the game up for the rest of us.”

Teams won’t be making that mistake for long. Eventually, the entire league will be respecting Tatum’s deep shot, because he’s already shooting the ball at an elite clip, and he should only continue to get better.

“For a guy with his frame, he shoots it effortless,” said Stevens. “I mean, he’s going to be able to shoot it deeper, and he’s going to be able to make it off running once he gets a little bit stronger, more used to it, and everything else. He’s going to be a heck of a shooter.”