Boston Celtics

Beyond the scoring: Tatum opens up about ‘do-everything' role for C's

"People want to see me score 35 every night, but there's so much more that I bring to the table."

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If you go back and read Jayson Tatum's scouting reports coming out of Duke in 2017, you'll find plenty about his scoring ability. You'll find decidedly less about his other attributes -- particularly his playmaking.

"He wasn't the most willing passer on the team this week by any stretch, really looking for his own offense almost exclusively at times," one scouting report read.

Fast forward to the 2024 postseason, where Tatum is leading the Celtics in points (26.0), rebounds (10.4) and assists (5.9) per game as Boston's do-it-all superstar.

While Tatum has steadily improved the other aspects of his game over seven NBA seasons, he's made a conscious effort in 2023-24 to make an impact beyond the scoring department. In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Boston's Brian Scalabrine at NBA Finals Media Day, Tatum opened up about how he's evolved as an all-around player with the singular focus of helping the Celtics raise Banner 18.

"Most importantly, my job on this team is to essentially do everything," Tatum told Scalabrine. "And that gives us the best chance to win. So not always being put in a box of just being a scorer."

"... People want to see me score 35 every night, but there's just so much more to the game of basketball and so much more that I bring to the table."

So, what has Tatum brought to the table this season? Here's what he told Scalabrine about improving his defense, rebounding and passing ahead of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, which tips off Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Defensive evolution

On a roster that includes All-Defensive guards Jrue Holiday and Derrick White and an All-Defense snub in wing Jaylen Brown, Tatum doesn't often get praised for his work on the defensive end. The 6-foot-8 forward admitted Boston's glut of defensive talent has fueled him this season to become even better on that end of the floor.

"We've got Jrue, we've got JB and D-White, and not wanting to be like the weak link out there," Tatum said. "... Now I love the challenge, whether I have to guard the five man or if it's fourth quarter and I need to guard the best player or I need to get a rebound, I enjoy being able to do all those things.

"There's a lot of guys that are my height, but they're better defenders on the perimeter. But when they get to the post, when guys are stronger, then they have a tougher job. So, I don't want to be one of those guys that you have to hide. I pride myself on being one of the best players and that means on both ends of the floor."

Eddie House breaks down what Jayson Tatum needs to do in the Finals to become the new face of the league

Rebounding prowess

Tatum has been a monster on the boards this postseason, averaging 10.4 rebounds per game (seventh-most in the NBA) and pulling down 10 or more rebounds in all but three of Boston's 14 playoff games.

That's part of an intentional effort from the 26-year-old, with a Celtics legend as his inspiration.

"I saw something the other day where like three out of the seven years I've been in the playoffs, I've averaged over 10 rebounds, and that's just another one of those things -- the guys that I'm chasing or admire, like, Larry Bird was one of the best rebounders in the NBA," Tatum said.

"I just want to be able to do it all. (Celtics head coach) Joe (Mazzulla) always challenges me to dominate. It's not always about scoring 30 or 40, but just my impact on the game."

Leveling up as a passer

Watch highlights from Jayson Tatum's best passes of the 2023-24 season as the Celtics gear up the the 2024 NBA Finals.

Tatum's biggest strides have come in the passing department: He's increased his assist average every year since he entered the NBA -- up from 1.8 per game as a rookie to 4.9 per game this season -- and has been Boston's top playmaker this postseason.

"I would say I've gotten a lot better from my rookie year, and it has to do with just being in that situation and having the ball in your hands," Tatum said. "Everything is a learning experience. There were times where I didn't read the defense or the help defenders as well, and now I'm extremely comfortable doing those things."

Tatum also has arguably his strongest supporting cast since he entered the league in 2017, and his trust in his teammates has made him an even more willing passer.

"Just understanding that it's a long game, right?" Tatum said. "And knowing that I need my teammates, maybe like, feeling good about themselves in a sense, right? If those guys get going early, maybe (defenders are) a little more reluctant to help, and now I have more space to attack my defender.

"When the game first starts, I'm making the easy pass, and Jrue and D-White or when Sam (Hauser) and Payton (Pritchard) come off the bench, they're getting open and easy 3s -- it just opens up the game for the rest of us."

Check out Tatum's full interview with Scalabrine in the video player above, or on YouTube below.

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