There’s a certain luxury afforded to top draft picks on playoff contenders. Unlike other highly touted rookies asked to shoulder the load for bad teams, first- and second-year players on elite NBA teams can take a secondary role, easing into action behind seasoned veterans.
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, it seems, are the exception to the rule.
The 21-year-old Brown and 19-year-old Tatum formed a lethal 1-2 punch Tuesday night for the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Brown tallied 23 points in 32 minutes on 9 of 16 shooting, while Tatum was hot on his tail with 22 points in 31 minutes on 9 of 15 shooting in Boston’s rout of the New York Knicks.
If you’re wondering when two Celtics this young scored this often, the answer is … never.
Tuesday night wasn’t an anomaly, either. Outside of Kyrie Irving, Brown and Tatum have been Boston’s most consistent producers, averaging 18.8 points and 14.8 points per game, respectively, while each logging an average of 34.3 minutes through four contests.
This could just be a hot start from two extremely green players who eventually will come back to earth. Yet Brad Stevens isn’t using age as an excuse for Brown and Tatum — in fact, he expects the youngsters to play like seasoned vets.
“They are young guys,” Stevens said Tuesday night, via the Boston Herald. “But to us, with the situation we’re in, they’re guys. Like, we need them to be guys.”
Translation: Stevens doesn’t plan on taking it easy on his two young guns.
“We’re in a situation right now where we’re going to expect a lot out of those guys, and we need them to be great,” Stevens said. “We need them to be able to respond to adversity, and we need to be able to respond to pats on the back just the same. We have high expectations for them; they should have high expectations for themselves.”
Such is life in Boston without Gordon Hayward, whose horrific ankle injury in the season opener completely altered the Celtics’ plans for 2017-18. Brown and Tatum, who both play Hayward’s position, will be tasked with filling the All-Star’s scoring void while guarding multiple positions on the defensive end — especially with forward Marcus Morris still sidelined due to injury.
So far, the young duo appears up to the task. But will the same be true in February and March? If Tatum continues to play this much, he’ll enter uncharted waters.
While most rookies averaging 30-plus minutes per game toil away from the spotlight on lottery teams, Tatum appears poised to play a major role on a likely playoff team. That’s a good amount of pressure — both mentally and physically — for a kid who can’t celebrate wins at the bar for another two years. Brown seems mature beyond his 21 years and has taken great strides as a second-year player, but can he adjust to seeing his minutes from last season literally double through four games?
If Brown and Tatum continue to match the hype, the C’s will be a force to be reckoned with. If their youth begins to show, though, Stevens might have to go back to the drawing board.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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