Jayson Tatum Talks Leadership And The Bind The Celtics Put Defenses In

INDIANAPOLIS — Jayson Tatum has steadily established himself as one of the NBA’s elite players over his seven seasons with the Celtics. On Sunday night he will play in his fifth consecutive All-Star Game, his fourth as a starter, and is coming off of a 55-point performance a year ago that earned him All-Star MVP honors.

All that is to say, Tatum has become a staple of All-Star Weekend and becoming the leading star on a franchise like the Boston Celtics comes with ample attention and responsibility. On Saturday afternoon, Tatum stopped by Ruffles’ activation at Nap or Nothing in Indy to interact with fans and give them a chance to see him up close, and as he explained when we sat down prior, that’s one of the most important parts of All-Star Weekend.

“I think it goes hand-in-hand,” Tatum said. “Like part of being an All-Star is the fans voting and wanting you to be here and I think being in some ways accessible and being able to come to things like this so they can see you and see your participation and see you actually are organic with the brands that you partner with. You know fans are smart, they remember things like that. Obviously I’m excited to be here with Ruffles and part of this Ridgeline experience, and any time you get to be interactive with the fans and give them a chance to be a part of All-Star Weekend and get a chance to unlock gifts and things like that. I think it’s just better for everybody.”

It’s all part of being in a leadership role with a team like the Celtics, which Tatum admits has taken some time for him to get comfortable with. As a naturally quiet guy, the star forward has had to grow into being a more vocal leader alongside the more natural “lead by example” tendencies to his work.

“Just doing it at your own pace, right. Everybody leads differently,” Tatum says. “I’m not the loudest guy in the room, but, you know, understand that your voice matters and people respect you by the work that you put in — show up every day, do your job, and when you have the right intentions. So just growing into your own skin, you know, through your experience in the league, people see that.”

On the floor, Tatum has gone from a helpful piece of a playoff team to the top star. While it’s one thing to make a leap into the All-Star conversation, it’s another to become a true superstar, the kind of guy that can be the best player on a championship team. That’s what Tatum is looking to prove this season, and when asked what it takes to make that leap, he quickly highlights one aspect of the game that’s crucial.

“Consistency,” Tatum explains. “Everybody can be special on one night or have a good month. But you know, can you do it for 82 games? Can you do it year after year after year? You know defenses are meant to stop you and you’re the main focus every night. Can you be efficient? Can you make other people better? Can you impact winning? When you’re doing all those things every single night, game after game after game, you’re doing something right.”

Since coming into the league, Tatum has known nothing but success at the NBA level. His Celtics teams have made the playoffs each season and have reached at least the Conference Finals four times in six years. However, with all of that success comes a lot of pressure now to not only get in the mix for a title, but to actually win a championship.

At 43-12, the Celtics have the best record in the NBA by a wide margin — four games ahead of Minnesota and six games ahead of Cleveland in the East. Regular season success isn’t new to Boston, but they do seem to be firing on all cylinders at the moment. It’s the second year with Joe Mazzulla at the helm, who like Tatum has been finding his way after suddenly being thrust into the lead role in Boston shortly before last season started. This year Tatum feels Mazzulla has been more comfortable in that position after having a full offseason to prepare and build out his staff, and that’s one of the reasons the Celtics have been able to be as good as they are.

“Getting that year under his belt, I think it was big,” Tatum says of his coach. “He got a whole offseason to prepare, he got the coaching staff and hired some guys that best fit him and the style he wanted to coach. And I think you’ve just seen him relax a lot more and he’s a lot more sure of himself and a lot more comfortable in his position as the head coach, and he’s taking responsibility.”

This year’s Celtics roster also looks different after a big offseason of moves, headlined by adding Kristaps Porzingis in a trade for Marcus Smart. That was a gamble by Brad Stevens and the organization to take away a player that was considered the heart of Boston’s locker room, their vocal leader, and perimeter defensive ace. They were banking on Derrick White thriving in that point guard role, Tatum and Jaylen Brown to embrace their leadership positions to keep things on track, and Porzingis to bring them a more dynamic offensive attack. To this point, that’s all worked out, with White having a terrific season, Tatum and Brown further adding to their roles as leaders, and Porzingis making them more dangerous.

Adding Jrue Holiday via trade only bolstered the overall attack more, and gave them another proven leader on both sides of the ball.

As Tatum explains, with their current group there’s no longer an easy decision for defenses. They can create more pressure points for the defense and to eliminate one of those, you have to give something up — and now that’s to a player well-equipped to take advantage.

“It’s tough. I mean, I feel like guarding us, you got to give up something. You can’t stop everything,” Tatum says. “And I think that’s what we were trying to build. Get the right guys in place in our system that you might have to give up something and you have to give it up to a really good player.”

Tatum and the Celtics know regular season success is no longer the bar they will be measured by — and even making it to the NBA’s final four isn’t enough. They are now a team that will be judged by championships. Tatum believes they are equipped to do that, noting they’re not just a talented group but one that enjoys playing with each other. In a few months they’ll get their chance to prove they’ve made the right moves as team to win and Tatum will get his chance to cement his status as one of the NBA’s premier players.