It’s been a strange and challenging season for Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, and that’s to put it mildly.
The two-time All-Star had to bounce back quickly after a long stint in the NBA bubble in Florida ended with elimination in the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals. Boston lost Gordon Hayward to Charlotte during the agency period free, putting even more responsibility on Tatum’s shoulders. The Celtics have struggled with injuries (especially Marcus Smart’s calf strain), inconsistent play, and COVID-19 issues.
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Tatum is one of many NBA players who have tested positive for COVID-19 this season and missed games as part of the league’s health and safety protocols. He admitted that he was dealing with lingering effects more than a month after his initial test results revealed that he had contracted the virus.
“I think it affects your breathing a bit.” Tatum said in February. “I’ve experienced some games where, I don’t want to say [I was] struggling to breathe, but, you know, you tire a lot faster than normal. By just running up and down the court a few times, it’s easier to get out of breath or get tired a lot faster.
“I realized that since I had COVID. It’s something I’m working on.”
And yet, despite all the difficulties, Tatum is still having arguably his best year as a professional. Entering Tuesday night’s game against the Jazz, Tatum was averaging 25.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, a career high, while shooting 44.5 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from 3-point range. . While Boston hasn’t lived up to expectations, it is at the center of the East playoff race.
So what can we expect from Tatum and his teammates in the second half of the 2020-21 campaign? Sporting News spoke with the 23-year-old on Monday about the status of the Celtics and much more.
(Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)
Sport News: Before talking about the Celtics, I know you spoke openly last month about the effects of COVID-19 and the feeling of fatigue on the court. How do you feel now? Are you still feeling those physical effects?
Jayson Tatum: I think for sure there have been constant improvements. Of everyone else I’ve talked to who has experienced what I’m going through, they said it’s just a kind of process, and that it takes some time to fully recover from a conditioning point of view where you don’t really affects your breathing. while you play. It is getting better. I think that’s all you can ask for.
SN: Have you talked to other guys within the league who have dealt with similar issues? Do you as NBA players have any idea how others are doing within your own little basketball community?
JT: Yes, I’ve talked to guys who are in the NBA and I’ve talked to guys from other leagues. Just talk about what they had to deal with, how they recovered, how they felt after playing in their respective sports again. I had a conversation with a couple of different guys.
SN: With where we are in the season entering the second half, how do you feel about this team and the roster as it is currently built? And in the future, what do you think you have to do to be considered among that elite level of championship?
JT: I think now that everyone is healthy, we obviously feel like a different team. We play as a different team. Getting everyone back together is a big part of this. With the situation of the staff, it is not for me to say that. My job and everyone else’s job in that locker room is to go out there and play the best we can, to help win games. Those decisions are above us. I feel that each and every person brings something different to the table that we need. So, I like our team. We’ve been playing better lately and we hope we keep getting better at that.
SN: What do you think is the factor that will allow the Celtics to get victories at a consistent level and carry that momentum into the playoffs?
JT: I think being more consistent throughout a game, whether we have the lead, holding it or, you won’t be perfect throughout the game. But just not be outdone by the things that we walk through in practice, the things that we see in the movie or go through in the tutorial, being safe in those things. Obviously, it’s the NBA. Guys will make plays and hit a few shots, but they won’t make it easy for them. Try to remove things like that. It’s only the detailed things that we can do better.
SN: One of the biggest things for his team recently was the return of Marcus Smart and what he brings to both ends of the court. It’s not that you didn’t know there would be some kind of shock when he couldn’t play, but how much does it lift you up?
JT: Obviously, Smart is very, very, very good and a very important part of our team. We sure miss him, his presence and all those intangible things he does every night that don’t necessarily appear on the stat sheet.
SN: Robert Williams has been playing well. He had 16 points, his most of the season, in a win over the Rockets. How have you seen him progress as a young player and play that role as an upright threat and rim protector? Coming into the league, I think everyone knew he had the tools, but he’s been putting them together.
JT: I love Rob. He works very hard. He has improved a lot to where he is a key part of our team. We need him to be successful and he knows it. He has assumed that responsibility and it shows. Rob is going to be special. I really do.
SN: Is there a part of his game or something that he has done that really grabs your attention? Something you’ve done from game to game?
JT: I think his talk, him talking on the floor, that people may not recognize. But being on the court with him, just hearing his voice and his presence, especially on the defensive end, I feel like he’s improved a lot than in his first year in the league.
SN: Is it something that just takes time, generally speaking, not even specific to Rob, for him to find his voice in the league and feel comfortable addressing his teammates?
JT: Yes, especially depending on your personality, you should feel comfortable with yourself, comfortable with the situation and your teammates. From man to man, that varies, how long it takes. But he has found out.
SN: I know there’s a joke on the internet that you’re always 19 years old, but you’ve also become an All-Star and reached a high level early in your career. With everything you have accomplished, being in the final of the conference, a prominent role in the team, how have you improved as a leader?
JT: Even at a young age, I think my basketball experience so far in the league and the work I’ve done gives you that credibility to be a leader and earn the respect of your teammates in that regard.
SN: The last one before I let you go here. I know your Blue Devils are out, but do you have a March Madness championship pick for this year?
JT: I mean, if we’re not in it, I’m going to see it, but it would be hard for me to pick someone else.
SN: Then you are in the same page as Zion Williamson, then? He said if Duke isn’t there, then I’m not interested.
JT: Oh yeah. I’m sorry.
Tatum spoke to Sporting News as part of a promotional interview on behalf of Subway. Basketball fans can join Tatum and Warriors star Draymond Green creating their own sandwiches and sharing them on social media with #MySubwaySub. (You may have heard that Tatum’s sub has bacon.)
“It was very genuine for me,” Tatum said. “I’ve been eating Subway since I was a kid, I grew up eating Subway. So when the opportunity presented itself, it was a no-brainer. I think that’s the best part for me, creating something and people enjoying it.”
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.