The maturation of Jayson Tatum has been obvious based solely on his preseason shot chart - an analytics Picasso with the majority of his attempts coming either beyond the 3-point arc or near the rim.
That maturation was obvious on Friday night when Tatum waved for Enes Kanter to set a screen near the 3-point arc so that Tatum could run a high pick-and-roll then probed his way to an easy layup.
But what Tatum said after Friday's game confirmed for certain that a maturation has occurred as Tatum took complete ownership of his sophomore season and downplayed the suggestion that a summer workout with Kobe Bryant somehow contributed to his penchant for low-percentage mid-range shots.
"I've seen all the people talking about the de-Kobe-ing. Kobe didn't teach me anything bad," Tatum told reporters in Orlando following Boston's breezy preseason triumph. "Everything we talked about and he showed me was great. Last year, with the jump I didn't make that everybody expected, it was not his fault. He's one of the greatest ever, so everything he taught me - I'm very grateful and it helped me.
"I've got to take responsibility for how I played last year, not being as big of a jump as people thought. But I'm still going to shoot the mid-range."
Tatum really doesn't need to apologize for his sophomore season. Yes, his shot profile was less than ideal and his 3-point shooting dipped (he still shot a solid 37.3 percentage; it simply wasn't the blistering 43.4 percent he shot as a rookie). And he still had the best on-court net rating among Celtics players with at least 1,000 minutes of court time (yes, better even than All-NBA second-teamer Kyrie Irving).
Expectations for Tatum, individually, were simply as out of control as they were for the entire 2018-19 Celtics team. Tatum's biggest crime was not making as pronounced a leap as many expected given the way he shined in the 2018 playoffs.
So with every mid-range shot that clanged off the back iron after Tatum hesitated to attack off the dribble, Bryant became a purple-and-gold punchline. What else could possibly explain why Tatum wasn't emerging as the surefire All-Star that he had been anointed from the very moment he dunked on LeBron James in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference finals?
Tatum could have simply gone along with the de-Kobe-ing chatter. He could have made it his scapegoat. Instead, he owned it.
"I got better last year, just not what people expected, not what I expected," said Tatum. "I take full responsibility. That's why I'm excited for this year.
"Kobe didn't teach me any bad habits."
No, but this whole de-Kobe chatter may have taught Tatum the best lesson of all: Ownership. He has taken full responsibility for last season and it might just be the most encouraging sign that the 2019-20 season will be different for both Tatum and the entire Celtics team.
A more mature Tatum takes the Celtics' ceiling and elevates it far beyond the expectations entering the season. And every single indication, but especially Tatum's comments Friday, suggest he's learned from last year and has positioned himself to make the leap that most were waiting for a year ago.
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