With the departure of Kyrie Irving to Brooklyn via free agency in the offseason and Gordon Hayward’s broken hand that will sideline him at least six weeks, the stage is set for Jayson Tatum to step forward and become a true star.
The former Chaminade and Duke standout, who played just one year in college before being drafted by the Boston Celtics, promptly fell on his proverbial face on Monday night when he went 1-18 shooting and scored just five points.
How bad was his performance? Historically awful.
Tatum became just the ninth player in NBA history to shoot at least 18 times and miss all but one. He is the first Celtic to ever do it and, of the nine occurrences, only three have happened in the last 40 years.
To his credit, he didn’t sulk or dodge the media. He visited the Celtics practice facility and practiced shooting for two hours. His Celtics prevailed in the game against the visiting Dallas Mavericks, 116-106.
Including Monday’s shooting debacle, Tatum still has pieced together his best season in the NBA. His respective 19.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game are all career highs.
Tatum is also grading out as one the NBA’s best defensive forwards during the first month of the season.
“I’m trying to be the best player I can be,” Tatum recently told NBC Sports Boston. “Just trying to make a bigger jump from year to year and be a better version of myself.
“(Players) in the NBA are so much more talented, so you have to pay attention to the scouting report. It’s a different ball game when you come from college. you really have to focus and pay attention to all the details.”
Coach Brad Stevens calls Tatum’s defensive effort this season “beyond his years.”
After drilling a two-point shot at the buzzer, the first game-winning shot of his career, that lifted the Celtics over the hapless New York Knicks 104-102, Tatum said, “It feels great but I don’t want to get too excited.”
“The guys I look up to in this league, they do things like this all the time.”
The Celtics’ 8-1 record after Monday’s win was the best in the NBA, and had them leading the Eastern Conference over the 7-3 Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors.
Tatum also took his disastrous shooting night in stride.
"Gotta be able to laugh at ya self sometime!" Tatum wrote in a Snapchat caption. "Glad we won! on to next."
Beal’s street is bumpy
Let’s head down I-95 South from Boston to Washington, D.C., where another St. Louis product, Bradley Beal, is also having an outstanding season. It’s not his fault, but the Washington Wizards look more like a lottery team in the 2020 NBA draft than a playoff contender.
It’s hard to believe that Beal made his Wizards’ debut seven years ago – and even more difficult to remember that his team was picked as a threat to win the NBA Eastern Conference just two years in the past.
While his team is off to a slow start, Beal is averaging 26.1 points, 6.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game – all career highs. During his career, Beal has averaged 19.9 points per game, which is a testament to how badly the Wizards need his scoring punch.
He tallied 20 points in a loss to Cleveland last Friday, and twice has scored 30 points in losses this year. With John Wall out recovering from an Achilles injury, Beal has to shoot and shoot often.
Beal was close to being an unrestricted free agent, but he signed a two-year, $72 million contract extension before the season started. He’ll make $130 million over the next four seasons – but it will be with a rebuilding franchise.
The question that follows Beal is “why?”
“(The front office) kind of projected the future and kind of gave me a layout of what we can do in the future and it looked promising for me, to put me in a position to have a little bit of control in that as well,” Beal told the Washington Post.
“I was honored by that because, again, you don’t get that type of position, that type of power. I’m taking advantage of it, and now here I am.”
While Beal has stepped up in scoring, he continues to challenge his teammates to get better defensively. The silver-lining to the 113-100 loss to Cleveland was that the Wizards cut a 21-point deficit to one late in the game.
“We defended (in the third quarter),” Beal said.
“We got out in transition and pushed the pace and I got easy looks. It was the difference in the game. We just turned our intensity up on the defensive end and rebounded the ball.”
At 2-6, the Wizards led only the Knicks in the Eastern Conference and seem destined for a high selection in the draft. That also leads to speculation that Beal could be traded, which has been constant during the past three seasons.
Beal and his squad took on Jayson Tatum and Boston Celtics on Wednesday night – hopefully a solid effort will help get the Wizards going in the right direction.
Bias against black QBs
Rick Telander, Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist, wrote this week that the stigma against black quarterbacks is still alive and well in the NFL.
“The stigma against black quarterbacks was supposed to have vanished for good after Washington’s Doug Williams led his team to victory in Super Bowl XXII in 1988. But it didn’t,” he wrote.
“Indeed, the stigma exists to this day.”
As examples, he cites the draft positions of black quarterbacks in the 2017 and 2018 NFL drafts.
Four white quarterbacks – Baker Mayfield (No. 1), Sam Darnold (No. 3), Josh Allen (No. 7) and Josh Rosen (No. 10) were selected in the Top 10.
Lamar Jackson, who is black, was taken 32nd by the Baltimore Ravens.
“It wasn’t like Jackson, from Louisville, was a hidden, unstudied talent less observed and prodded than the four above him, wrote Telander.
“There was no mystery here. Indeed, Jackson had won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore, becoming the youngest athlete to be named the best college player in the land.
“As a pro? Jackson to date has performed so much better than any of the four white quarterbacks taken before him that it’s flat-out embarrassing.”
As for the 2017 draft, Telander points out that the Chicago Bears made several moves to acquire the second pick and took Mitch Trubisky, who was a starter all of one year at North Carolina.
The Bears passed on Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans, who went 10th and 12th, respectively.
“Results? Watson is playing like a cerebral wizard; Mahomes, last year’s league MVP, is a Hall of Famer in the making. Trubisky is hanging by a thread,” wrote Telander.
Jalen Hurts of the Oklahoma Sooners should take note. Many NFL draft pundits doubt his ability to be an NFL star. I agree with Telander, that his skin color plays a role in those assessments – maybe more than his success on the field as a collegian.
The Reid Roundup
After signing a ball for the son of an Air Force serviceman before Monday’s Veterans Day game with Dallas, Jayson Tatum then gave him the shoes he planned to wear in the game … Fifty years ago, Wyoming coach Lloyd Eaton berated Melvin Hamilton and 13 other black players, saying they were underprivileged black kids “who should have been thankful he could attend a white college.” The players planned to protest, but were dismissed from the team hours before a game against Brigham Young. They finally received an apology earlier this year. Wow … Speaking of apologies, former NFL GM and Hall of Famer Bill Polian apologized to Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson for saying he was better suited to play wide receiver than quarterback in the NFL. “I was wrong, because I used the old, traditional quarterback standard with him, which is clearly why (coach) John Harbaugh and (former GM) Ozzie Newsome were more prescient than I was,” Polian told USA TODAY… The lone reason the POTUS attended the LSU at Alabama college football game was to secure a nationally televised warm greeting from the Deep South crowd … I learned something on Monday. The Harlem Children’s Choir is singing background on the late John Lennon’s classic holiday song “Happy Christmas.”
Alvin A. Reid was honored as the 2017 “Best Sports Columnist – Weeklies” in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest and is a New York Times contributor. He is a panelist on the Nine Network program, Donnybrook, a weekly contributor to “The Charlie Tuna Show” on KFNS and appears monthly on “The Dave Glover Show” on 97.1 Talk.” His Twitter handle is @aareid1.