ORLANDO, Fla. — Prior to last season, Jayson Tatum had a chance to train with one of his basketball idols, Kobe Bryant. Tatum had just completed a dazzling rookie year, helping Boston to the brink of the NBA Finals, and he was in position to ascend to stardom. And it seemed that working with one of the game’s all-time greats could only help.
But Boston stumbled through a frustrating year and Tatum’s game mostly seemed stagnant. And along the way, there was a growing — if faulty — narrative that Bryant, a former Laker, had stunted the growth of a burgeoning Celtics star.
The notion escalated as Tatum routinely passed up 3-pointers in favor of more difficult contested midrange jumpers, a staple of Bryant’s arsenal.
This year, Tatum has vowed to focus on shooting more 3-pointers and driving to the basket more often. After the Celtics’ 100-75 preseason win over the Magic on Friday, he was asked about shooting fewer midrange shots. And even though he was not asked about Bryant, he took the opportunity to push back against a narrative that was clearly irking him.
“I’m still going to shoot the midrange,” he said. “I’ve seen all the people talking about the de-Kobeing. Kobe didn’t teach me anything bad. Everything we talked about and he showed me was great.
“Last year, with the jump I didn’t make that everybody expected, it was not his fault. He’s one of the greatest ever, so everything he taught me was — I’m very grateful, and it helped me. I’ve got to take responsibility for how I played last year not being as big of a jump that people thought. But I’m still going to shoot midrange.”
Tatum acknowledged that last season did not go as expected, but he said the responsibility for that falls on him.
“That’s why I’m excited for this year,” he said. “But Kobe didn’t teach me bad habits. I didn’t say that.”