Basketball

Jayson Tatum ‘laughed’ at recent criticism from anonymous coach

"I just laughed because I know it’s not true."

Jayson Tatum Celtics
Jayson Tatum's been the center of a lot of criticism so far this season. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

Jayson Tatum’s been the center of criticism for much of the young NBA season.

The Celtics star has gone through career-low shooting woes as the Celtics have started the year 12-11, and his playstyle was ripped recently by an anonymous coach in an ESPN article.

“Jayson Tatum is about Jayson Tatum,” an Eastern Conference assistant coach told ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. “I don’t think he cares about winning now, and if he does, it is on his terms.

“He doesn’t want to score 15 and win. He wants to score 39 and win.”

Tatum first acknowledged the report following the Celtics’ win over the 76ers, saying “I saw a report the other day that said I was a selfish player. That seems pretty unselfish of me. Whatever it takes for us to win.”

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He expanded a bit more though on how he felt about the report in an interview with The Athletic’s Jay King.

“I laughed,” Tatum said. “I think when people get upset or you get a reaction out of somebody, it’s probably because they feel like it’s kind of true. But I just laughed because I know it’s not true. I know my teammates, my coaches, anybody I’ve ever been around, selfish is the last thing.”

Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens, who coached Tatum for his first four seasons in the league, came to the young star’s defense, calling the quote “absolutely ridiculous” in a recent interview.

“There is no way that assistant coach would put his name on that quote because, first of all, he has never been around Jayson,” Stevens said on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Toucher and Rich.” “And, secondly, Jayson would kill him every time he played him for the rest of his career. That’s the way those guys in this league are wired.

“I actually sent a note to one of the people I work with like, ‘This is idiotic.’ Just be around this guy every day. That guy loves to win. He’s sitting there with his feet in the ice bucket after every game that we lose and he looks despondent. This guy’s competitive. I know that for a fact. I’m glad he’s on our team.”

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Tatum also wasn’t a fan that the comment was made anonymously.

“I saw what Brad said, and I wish I did know who said it,” Tatum told King. “But I guess that’s the time we live in. A lot of anonymous people, a lot of anonymous quotes, that I’m sure that person would never claim that they said it. But when you’re in the position that I’m in, a lot of people have a lot of things to say about you. You take it with a grain of salt and you move on.”

Statistically, Tatum’s taken a noticeable dip in play this season from his career year last season. His field goal percentage went from 45.9 to 40.2. His 3-point percentage has gone from 38.6 to 31.1. His free-throw percentage is even down, going from 86.8 to 82.4. With all that added up, Tatum leads the league in missed field goals, causing his scoring to go from 26.4 points per game to 24.9 points per game.

Tatum’s assists are also down, going from dishing 4.3 assists per game last season to 3.7 so far this season. Despite that, Tatum feels like he’s made “great strides” as a playmaker this season.

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“The more attention I get from the defense, getting the team’s best defender, they’re top-locking screens, they’re blitzing, they’re showing and hedging, doubling in the post. Just always make the right read, find guys,” Tatum told King. “I think I really haven’t forced any shots throughout the double team or stuff like that. Obviously, I could be better at things. But it’s just all in the flow of the game. Sometimes you’ve gotta be a little more aggressive. Sometimes, s—, if they just keep doubling or they deny you the ball, you catch it and make a play for somebody else.”

Tatum and the Celtics’ offense — which ranks just 23rd in the league in efficiency so far this season — put up a good showing to start their five-game West Coast trip on Friday. They scored 130 points as Tatum led the way with 37, but they lost to the Jazz.

As Tatum and the Celtics look to have a repeat performance offensively, they’ll be without a pair of key guys for Saturday’s game against the Trail Blazers. Jaylen Brown will miss his second straight game and his 11th game this season due to a hamstring injury. Al Horford is also out due to back stiffness.

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