BOSTON — Jayson Tatum is at that point in his NBA career: The moment where his opponents are just starting to wrap their minds around his potential.
The Boston Celtics forward is enjoying a career season, averaging 22.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game while earning his first NBA All-Star nod.
More importantly, he’s playing at an elite level more consistently, topping 20 points in nine of his last 10 games while shooting above 50 percent from the floor in seven of those contests.
Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has been watching Tatum from afar and notices a significant difference in his game compared to last season.
“He’s just taking better shots,” Rivers said before Thursday’s Celtics-Clippers game at TD Garden. “The shot quality is better than it was last year. He seems just more confident and free in a very positive way.”
But it’s not only Tatum’s confidence that stands out to Rivers. It’s that Tatum possesses that confidence at age 21.
“Like, he’s so young still,” Rivers said. ” … Jayson’s gonna be — five years from now, can you imagine what he’ll be?
“I mean, he’s one of the better players in the league. He’s an All-Star. And yet we’re still talking about how young and how much better he’ll be. It’s going to be amazing.”
Rivers isn’t the first seasoned NBA coach to view Tatum as a future superstar. (Just ask Gregg Popovich.) But the third-year forward isn’t letting all that praise get to his head.
“He’s always had a high, high emotional intelligence to him,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Tatum. “He’s always been able to stay above the fray and the moment and not get too high or too low. It’s really impressive.”
Rivers just hopes Tatum takes a night off from his impressive ascent Thursday night.
“I don’t need any more growth outta him right now,” Rivers said. ” … I’m glad he’s in the East.”
Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston’s coverage of Clippers-Celtics, which begins Thursday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.