It was a convenient tale that took hold early last season and continued for much of the year. Celtics forward Jayson Tatum spent part of the offseason in 2018 working out with retired Lakers star Kobe Bryant and because Tatum came out firing ill-advised long 2-pointers—a staple of Bryant’s game—the natural conclusion was that Bryant had led Tatum astray with bad advice.
Speaking after Friday’s blowout, 100-75 win over the Magic in Orlando, Tatum sought to defuse the idea that Bryant somehow had been to blame for the shot selection issues that plagued Tatum last season.
“I’m still going to shoot the mid-range,” Tatum told reporters. “I seen all the people talking about the de-Kobe-ing. No, Kobe didn’t teach me anything bad. Everything we talked about and he showed me was great. Last year, with the jump I didn’t make that everybody expected, it was not his fault. He’s one of the greatest ever, so everything he taught me was, I’m very grateful, and it helped me.”
Tatum was referring to an ESPN story that ran this week under the headline, “The de-Kobe-ing of Jayson Tatum has begun.” That was accompanied by discussion on the network of the need to take the Bryant-esque elements out of Bryant’s game, especially the reliance on midrange shooting.
Tatum Cutting Back on Midrange Attempts
Bryant may have had nothing to do with pushing that aspect of the game with Tatum but eliminating it has been an emphasis of the preseason. According to NBA.com stats, Tatum took 2.7 shots per game from the midrange as a rookie and made 43.7 percent. Last year, he took 3.5 shots per game from the midrange and made 36.6 percent.
He has taken two midrange shots in each of the Celtics first two preseason games and has made only one of the four. Even as he works to reduce the midrange shot from his arsenal, Tatum would not lay the blame for last year’s disappointment—for the Celtics as a team and for Tatum individually—on his work with Bryant or on the midrange shooting.
“It was a lot of things,” Tatum said. “It was a team aspect. We just didn’t win that many games. It was tough. We were 10-10, so when you 10-10 and everyone thought we were gonna win a championship, nobody looked that good last year. I got better last year, just not what people expected — not what I expected – and I take full responsibility, but that’s why I’m excited for this year.”
Indeed, the Celtics entered last season as the favorites in the East, but poor team chemistry combined with a crowded rotation meant that disappointment was shared across the roster. The Celtics finished with 49 wins and were knocked out of the playoffs in a five-game series loss to Milwaukee in the second round.
Tatum’s scoring bumped upwards from 13.9 points to 15.7 points, but his shooting dropped from 47.5 percent to 45.0 percent. That was surprising after he’d averaged 18.5 points and 47.1 percent from the field in the playoffs in his rookie year. He was expected to carry that momentum into last season.
This season, it will be a clear slate. And Tatum is intent on not overdoing the 15-18 footers, though he’ll still take them when they’re open.
“I’m still going to shoot mid-range,” Tatum said. That won’t change. If Tatum can limit those chances to only the most open opportunities, he could be ready for the sharp spike in personal production most thought he’d show this season.