Tatum shines, helps lead Team USA to 161-144 win

A. Sherrod Blakely
NBC Sports Boston
The Celtics second-year star shined in Friday night's Rising Stars Challenge to the tune of six 3-pointers.
The Celtics second-year star shined in Friday night's Rising Stars Challenge to the tune of six 3-pointers.

Tatum shines, helps lead Team USA to 161-144 win originally appeared on nbcsportsboston.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Before the season began, Jayson Tatum was viewed by many on the cusp of being a star.

When you think about how an actual star is formed, the parallels are clear.

Solar system-type stars involve light elements being squeezed under intense pressure.

Jayson Tatum played his best basketball as a Celtic during the playoffs when the pressure to perform was at its apex.

That star-creating pressure creates a nuclear fusion reaction that's explosive.

☘️ CELTICS AT ALL-STAR WEEKEND

Tatum averaged 18.5 points in the playoffs which included a stretch in which he had 20 or more points in seven straight games.

But the stardom many envisioned for the second-year wing, hasn't quite materialized how they thought it would.

Tatum has been a very good player this season, improving in a number of critical offensive categories.

But the 6-foot-8 forward has not quite elevated his play to superstar status ... yet.

So does that make his play this season disappointing?

Of course not.

Tatum's focus and the Celtics' focus for him has been from the outset, to improve upon last season.

And one of the first steps towards becoming a star in this league, is to become a star from within your own draft class.

Selected with the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NBA draft, Tatum has indeed lived up to the lofty billing his draft status warrant.

Looking at players from his draft class, Tatum stacks up favorably in just about every significant statistical category.

And those skills were on display Friday night in the Mountain Dew Rising Stars Challenge pitting the top first- and second-year players from the USA (Team USA) against the top international first- and second-year players (Team World).

Tatum as you might expect stood out, tallying 30 points on 12-for-24 shooting with nine rebounds, three assists and two steals in Team USA's 161-144 win.

"Last year I was little nervous," said Tatum who played in the Rising Stars Challenge as a rookie last season. "This year I wasn't nervous at all; I knew what to expect."

Team USA, coached by Celtics star Kyrie Irving, was led by Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers) who had 35 points.

The leading scorer for Team World was Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers) who had 28 points on 14-for-17 shooting along with five rebounds and six assists.

While the competitive juices weren't flowing anywhere close to what you see in an NBA regular season game, Tatum's final stat line in many ways reflects his place among the top young players in the NBA.

And when you throw in his big-game experience in the playoffs, Tatum's place among the best and brightest young stars is established.

Tatum has played in more games (138) than anyone from his draft class. And his 3-point shooting (40.6 percent) is also tops among the players he entered the league with in 2017.

In addition, Tatum's a top-five performer from the 2017 draft class in other key categories such as total minutes played (4,245; second); total points scored (2,068, third); rebounds (767, fifth); and field goal percentage (46.5 percent; fourth).

So Tatum's place among the top players in the NBA is indeed a work in progress. But games like the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night serve as a reminder that Tatum is on the short list of NBA players with star-on-the-making potential.

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