As a rookie last season, Celtics forward Jayson Tatum had a locker in the corner of the room next to veteran guard Shane Larkin. Often before games, while other teammates were receiving medical treatment or firing up jump shots, Larkin and Tatum would sit at their stalls and talk.
That was really how their friendship started, and soon after the season ended, Tatum flew to Miami to spend time with Larkin. Larkin, who has played for four NBA teams during his NBA career, has dispensed any advice he could think of. But he quickly realized by watching Tatum that the forward did not need much help.
“His potential is unlimited,” said Larkin, who remains a free agent this summer and is unlikely to be back with the Celtics. “He’s 6-10, he’s got the ball on a string, he can shoot it with anybody.
“Defensively, he’s very smart. He’s always in the right place, and he’s still going to continue to get better and grow and get smarter.
“And I think with the skill set he already has, he can easily be one of the top five players in the league if he continues to work and lock in and really devote himself to the game. So I’m really excited to see where he goes.”
Larkin said that Tatum has no obvious weaknesses, but that the second-year forward still has room to grow, and that truth should terrify opponents. He said that Tatum could work on staying involved in a game early on even if he does not have the ball in his hands very often, especially because with the returns of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, there will be times when the ball is not his.
“A lot of young guys, when they don’t get the ball early they kind of fizzle out,” Larkin said. “Sometimes in the playoffs when JT didn’t get going early, he kind of let that affect his mind, and then he’d get an open shot or have an opportunity and he wouldn’t take full advantage of it. Just mentally he just has to find ways to stay locked in all the time.
“He knows he has the potential to be so good that when it’s not going his way that game, he kind of lets it gets to his head and gets down on himself.
“If he finds a way to just block that out and goes into halftime with zero points, just have the mind-set of ‘I’m going to come out in the second half and get my 15 or 20, be efficient and keep doing what I’m doing.’ If he does that and grows mentally, his game will just continue to take off.”
Tatum, who is just 20 years old, said after last season one of his primary goals this summer is to get stronger.
Larkin said that will be important, particularly given the small-ball options that will be available to coach Brad Stevens with the current roster.
“He’s going to be playing some [small forward], some stretch [power forward], so he needs to get a little stronger, because he’ll have to guard some of the biggest guys this year with the way Boston’s lineup is going to be set up,” Larkin said.
“Continue to grow and be able to switch onto some small [centers] when people are going small, and just have that lineup out there where he can switch [on every screen] and guard point guards and guard centers and just be very versatile defensively, because offensively you don’t need to tell him anything.”