Jayson Tatum had a remarkable rookie season.
Playing at age 19 for much of his inaugural pro campaign, the Boston Celtics small forward averaged 13.9 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.
He hit another gear in the playoffs, averaging 18.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game while becoming the youngest player in league history to score 200 points in the postseason.
Tatum seems to be on a rapid path to stardom, and Kobe Bryant has taken notice. The two have built a strong mentor-protégé relationship over the past year, and it all started with an episode of Bryant’s ESPN+ series, Detail. In the episode, Bryant gave Tatum constructive criticism regarding his game, specifically dialing in on his performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals last year.
The two concepts that Bryant tried to instill in Tatum’s head during the episode were to always point his feet toward the basket while preparing to attack the defender, and to better find “pockets” of separation when he’s coming off screens. The day after the video went live, Tatum had already watched the critique 25 times:
This summer, Tatum posted photos of himself working out one on one with the Mamba, and that should be a scary sight for the rest of the league.
To hone in on the things Bryant spoke about in his critique, the use of a pocket out of a screen was essential. Tatum was one of the youngest players in the NBA last season, and though he had an impressive year, he had many areas to improve. His footwork and awareness coming off a screen can get better, as Tatum often came very loosely off screens with no vision of where to go next. Bryant mentioned that Richard Hamilton was very productive off screens, and suggested Tatum watch clips of the former Detroit Pistons star to understand the importance of utilizing screens more effectively.
Bryant also encouraged Tatum to become a more aggressive scorer. “(He told me to) shoot every time,” Tatum told GQ of his workout with Bryant. “Pass if you have to. But if not, shoot it.”
The Black Mamba is also looking to pass on his ferocious work ethic to the Boston Celtics youngster, telling him, “If you told yourself that your life, your family’s life, your kid’s life depended on it, how would you go about practice? How much does this game mean to you for you to be the best?”
Tatum elaborated on his meeting with Kobe on a recent episode of “The Bill Simmons Podcast.”
“I got to meet with (Kobe), and we talked about a lot of things—basketball-related, non-basketball related,” Tatum said. “I tried to get into his mind and see how he went about things. Just trying to get better each year. What he wanted to improve on year after year so he didn’t backtrack or be complacent. His will to just be the best and strive to get better every year. That’s one thing I found interesting. When we were working out, he said his thing was just trying to break the game down and make it as simple as possible. He said the year he averaged 35, all he worked on in the summer time was the pivot foot. Trying to play off both pivots. He said, ‘That’s all I did for the entire summer. I expanded off a move from each pivot and a counter move to that.’”
At Celtics’ media day, Tatum called Bryant his “biggest basketball inspiration.” Tatum is on track to be one of the next premier players in the NBA, and his relationship with the five-time NBA champion should only accelerate his development.