Speaking to reporters Friday, Tatum dismissed the notion that Bryant taught him bad habits that led to his disappointing 2018-19 season:
"I'm still going to shoot the mid-range. 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 mid-range."
The topic was brought up in the wake of a story published Tuesday by ESPN's Tim Bontemps about the Celtics working to "de-Kobe" Tatum:
"He'd dribble into difficult midrange shots, including fadeaways. Those were shots Kobe Bryant, who worked with Tatum in the summer of 2018, made a living taking—and making. But the NBA has since evolved into a league hyper-focused on shots at the rim and beyond the arc—and, last year, Tatum didn't take enough of either.
"Among the 96 players who had at least 100 direct isolations last season, according to data from Second Spectrum, Tatum ranked dead last in efficiency, with an average of .70 of a point per play."
The Celtics can't afford to have that version of Tatum again if they want to be a top contender in the Eastern Conference. His scoring average improved from 13.9 points per game as a rookie to 15.7, but his shooting percentage (47.5 to 45.0) and three-point percentage (43.4 to 37.3) dropped.
Heading into his third season, Tatum has the chance to change the narrative back to the one that everyone was writing during his tremendous rookie campaign. The Celtics need him to be a superstar to challenge for the title in 2019-20.