SALT LAKE CITY -- After the second eyebrow-raising performance of his young NBA career, Boston Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum was being quizzed on his skilled post game when a reporter wondered if there were shades of Kobe Bryant in his play.
"Yeah, that's my favorite player," the 19-year-old Tatum said before catching himself.
"He was -- then I went to the Celtics."
Celtics fans prefer to compare Tatum's slow-motion style to Paul Pierce. He poured gasoline on those comparisons in his NBA debut Monday night when his pull-up jumper with 5.7 seconds remaining lifted Boston to a win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Tatum followed up that 21-point effort by scoring a team-best 23 points in Wednesday's 81-70 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Tatum connected on 10 of 18 shots, showcased an array of silky offensive moves and added 10 rebounds over 31 minutes.
Even as the Celtics celebrate the impending acquisition of free-agent prize Gordon Hayward, there's tremendous excitement within the organization about Tatum's potential, especially given the early returns.
"He's gonna be a pretty good player in this league for a long time," said Celtics summer league coach Jerome Allen. "As the days pass I think I'm beyond being surprised by what he's able to do on the floor from a number of different spots on the floor.
"At 19, his soul seems mature and older. His approach -- he doesn't get sped up. He's physical, he competes, he rebounds, he puts it on the floor, he passes, he scores from the post, midrange and long ball. You'd be hard-pressed to find another 19-year-old in this country that just has the demeanor that he has."
The soft-spoken Tatum has downplayed his early success and prefers to point to areas he needs to improve at. He admits the NBA game is faster, but his slow-and-in-control style has translated well in summer league. It calls to mind former Celtics coach Doc Rivers marveling at how Pierce became an elite scorer despite seemingly moving at a snail's pace on the floor.
A sign in the crowd at the University of Utah's Huntsman Center on Wednesday read, "Jayson Tatum is the real #1." The insinuation: Boston got the best player in the draft, even after shuffling down from the top spot to No. 3 in a swap with the Philadelphia 76ers.
"He's amazing. I think he's a hell of a talent," said Celtics 2016 second-round pick Abdel Nader, the G League rookie of the year last season. "He'll be a great asset to the Boston Celtics this year."
Markelle Fultz, whom the 76ers drafted with the No. 1 pick received from the Celtics, scored 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting over 26 minutes in the Sixers' 100-94 loss to the Jazz on Wednesday night. The 19-year-old rookie aided a spirited fourth-quarter charge by Philadelphia, but Utah was able to fend off the charge.
Sixers coach Bill Lange said after Wednesday's game that Fultz would likely sit out Philadelphia's finale in Utah on Thursday. All four teams in Salt Lake City are headed to the Las Vegas Summer League later this week.
Jazz point guard Dante Exum, the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft, scored a game-high 26 points to go along with 10 assists over 29 minutes. Exum sat out the entire 2015-16 season due to an ACL injury but returned to appear in 66 games last season. He's still just 21 years old but is trying to assert himself in summer league, especially after the Jazz added point guard Ricky Rubio this offseason.