Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said he had “really high expectations” ahead of Celtics forward Jayson Tatum’s rookie season.
“I thought, going into the draft, he probably was the best player,” Krzyzewski told Boston.com. “He was definitely the best offensive player.”
Tatum — who was selected by the Celtics with the third-overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft — played one season of college basketball at Duke. Although he missed five weeks with a foot injury, Tatum quickly established himself as a versatile offensive threat with a presence on the glass. He became just the third Blue Devil under Krzyzewski to average at least 16 points and seven rebounds.
“I thought he progressed really well,” Krzyzewski said. “If he didn’t miss those five weeks, he would have gone up another level, I think.”
In his 29 games at Duke, Tatum shot 45.2 percent from the floor, 34.2 percent from behind the arc, and 84.9 percent from the line. Krzyzewski highlighted Tatum’s ability to score, but more specifically, his ability to attack in different ways — whether it be in the post, from mid-range, from three-point, or on the drive.
“He never thought he’d become a standstill shooter,” Krzyzewski said.
But there’s more to Tatum than his production on the court. Behind the scenes, Krzyzewski said he’s both “a great worker” and “a great student,” who puts the time in now because he knows he has to develop habits that require daily vigilance. As Krzyzewski put it, “it’s just constant work.”
“I think the main strength he has — besides the talent — is that he always wants to get better,” Krzyzewski said. “He’ll come ready to learn every day, and he’s not afraid of making mistakes in the learning process.”
So what’s next for budding superstar?
The Celtics don’t want to put a ceiling on Tatum — and neither does Krzyzewski. But he would like to see the forward be a little more vocal on the court.
“I always like to see him talk more,” Krzyzewski said. “When you’re talking, that means you’re more consumed with the game you’re playing. You own it more.”
He cautions, however, there’s no need to overdo it. In moments when Tatum might seem quiet or reserved, Krzyzewski said it’s because he’s listening and observing.
“That’s why he’s such a good learner,” he said. “He’s not talking all the time because he’s listening and seeing and then doing. He’s really ahead of his years.”
Krzyzewski also emphasized the importance of body maintenance — something the pair talked about after the Celtics’ 101-game season. Tatum played in a team-high 99 regular-season and postseason games.
“When you’re 20 years old, you’ve got to be careful in how you recover and that you don’t overtrain,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s the first time his body has been put through the grind of an NBA season. It’s something that’s not normal for your body, so now how do you recover and get ready for your second year?”
Other than prioritizing recovery, he recommends Tatum “just keep doing what he’s doing” because “the only thing that could stop him is a serious injury.”
As for the possibility of another Blue Devil joining the Celtics?
Krzyzewski isn’t opposed.
Duke shooting guard Grayson Allen is a potential prospect Boston could pursue with the 27th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Allen would join Tatum, point guard Kyrie Irving, forward Semi Ojeleye, and co-owner Steve Pagliuca as former Blue Devils donning green and white. He worked out for the Celtics earlier in June.
“I think Grayson has got a chance to go in that 20 to 30 range,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s going to be a really good pro player because he can shoot, he can score, he can play that combo guard, and he’s a great athlete. And he’s 22. He’s not a young kid.”
“He’s just played four years under a microscope, and if he went to Boston, that would be great,” he continued. “For my guys, I just want them to go to really good franchises where they are coached well. I’m not saying any of them are bad, but there are some that are better, and Boston is one of the better ones.”
“That’s why they’re good.”