Jayson Tatum likely to start for the Celtics in his NBA debut

As the Boston Celtics prepare for Opening Night on Tuesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Brad Stevens hinted at the likely starters for the contest. What may come as a bit of a surprise, one of the names that Coach Stevens hinted at in the starting five was rookie Jayson Tatum.

It sounds like the Celtics are most likely tipping off the 2017-18 season with Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford:

Coming into the 2017 Draft this summer, Tatum was tagged as one of the most NBA-ready players. Although he is only 19 years old and played just one year of college ball at Duke, the Celtics forward already possessed a range of NBA skills when he was selected third overall. He has good size and defensive instincts, a polished turn-around jump shot, and a solid grasp of the game.

That being said, the (probable) decision to start the rookie is rather surprising. Unless they're playing for a bad team, NBA newbies typically ease into action. Boston is projected to win the East, depending on which site you look at. Vegas has them at 56.5 wins - the highest projection for any Eastern Conference squad. Yet, Tatum may be right there in the starting five for one of the top contenders as a teenager.

A large reason for this is probably because of Marcus Morris' recent injury. The versatile forward was a good bet to start in the four spot before experiencing some knee soreness that is expected to delay his Celtics debut by a week or so.

MassLive.com's Jay King got the latest scoop on the Celt's projected starting five:

With veteran forward Marcus Morris ruled out for the next "week-plus" due to knee soreness, head coach Brad Stevens hinted the team is likely to start the 19-year-old Tatum and 20-year-old Jaylen Brown on opening night.

"I don't want to say (the starters) because then I feel like I would be stuck to it," Stevens said after practice Sunday, "but probably pretty similar to what we've been doing."

Assuming Jayson is indeed a starter on Tuesday night, he will draw a matchup with a hungry Jae Crowder, who will have an appetite for revenge in the first meeting with his former team. Tatum has a slight two-inch height advantage, but Crowder has 20 pounds of muscle over the Duke alum. Of course, Crowder also has five years of experience under his belt and countless minutes of guarding top NBA talent. It will be an interesting matchup for Tatum in his debut.

Another enticing matchup for the rookie that will surely happen at one point or another during the night is LeBron James. Tatum has thought about the possibility before and is prepared to step head-to-head with The King on the hardwood - at least in his dreams, that is:

Until Tuesday night, an opening-night meeting with LeBron James will remain nothing more than a daydream for Jayson Tatum. But the Boston Celtics rookie said he is already anticipating the matchup. He has allowed himself to think about defending James, to wonder what will happen when he's lined up against this generation's greatest player.

"It went good in my head," Tatum said, smiling as if to acknowledge guarding James in real life doesn't always go so well.

"I used to watch LeBron on TV growing up," Tatum said, "and now I'm playing my first game against him."

Tatum joins Brown to make up an extremely young pair in the starting five, especially for Boston's standards. They have only once ever come into a season with a player below the age of 21 in the starting lineup. On Tuesday night, they may be coming in with two of them:

It's a big sign of trust for Brad Stevens to start these two youngsters right out of the gate against a top competitor. We'll see how it pays off!

By the way, remember that guy Markelle Fultz? He's not even starting for the Sixers on their opening night...and they're the Sixers!

Follow Erik Johnson on Twitter: @erikjohnson32

Photo via AP Photo/Charles Krupa