Celtics

Jayson Tatum will focus on getting to the free-throw line more this offseason, his shooting coach says

Tatum averaged a career-high 5.3 free throw attempts per game this past season.

Jayson Tatum Celtics
Jayson Tatum's best scoring games last season often coincided with him reaching the free-throw line a lot. Kathy Willens/AP

Jayson Tatum’s continued growth took another step in his fourth season.

The Celtics young star put up several career highs this season, putting up bests in points (26.4 per game), rebounds (7.4 per game), and assists (4.3 per game) this past year.

Another area that saw an improvement was his free throw attempts. Tatum averaged 5.3 free throw attempts per game this season. That number nearly doubled in the Celtics’ first-round series against the Nets, in which Tatum shot 9.8 free throws per game en route to scoring 30.6 points per game.

Drew Hanlen, who’s Tatum’s shooting coach, recognizes the importance of getting to the line and said it’s something he plans Tatum to work on this offseason.

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“I don’t think there wasn’t anything the Nets threw at him that he wasn’t prepared for, but we noticed a big trend,” Hanlen told the Boston Herald’s Mark Murphy. “When Jayson shot a high volume of free throws, he put up huge numbers. That’s the big focus — being able to get downhill more, which allows him to get to the line more, which also allows him to add another dynamic to his game. That’s the focus.”

Free throw attempts played a big role in many of Tatum’s scoring outbursts this season. Tatum, who shot 86.8 percent from the stripe during the regular season, shot at least 10 free throws in six of the nine games he scored 35-plus points in during the regular season and the playoffs.

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A big thing in getting to the stripe is being able to play physically – which Hanlen says is the top thing he’ll work with Tatum on this offseason. In addition to increasing Tatum’s free throw output, Hanlen wants to see Tatum continue to grow as a passer to help handle the pressure and physicality opposing defenses give him.

“The big thing for me is that he has to be able to initiate contact instead of letting the defender get to him first,” Hanlen said. “He has to be able to act before the defender gets to him, because if the defender gets to him, he can bump him off of his line. But if Jayson gets into the defender and starts veering, and they impede his balance or his angle, that dictates the foul.”

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“No. 1 is getting downhill. You’ve seen him grow during the season in that category, but getting downhill will be No. 1, and being able to finish when you do get downhill,” Hanlen added. “The second thing — last year he started to see different schemes and coverages thrown at him, so being able to prepare for some of those next-level things so he can become a playmaker when teams try to squeeze the ball out of his hands.”

Tatum’s training won’t be his only offseason work. He was named to the 12-man roster for the USA men’s basketball team for the Summer Olympics earlier this week, making it the second time in three years he’ll play for USA Basketball.

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Hanlen told Murphy that his plan for Tatum is to have him work on the aforementioned things while he’s with USA Basketball. Once that’s finished, Tatum and Hanlen will work together for six weeks before he has to report back to Boston for the start of training camp.

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