Well, this can’t be great for Markelle Fultz’s confidence.
The No. 1 overall pick has been much maligned throughout this rookie season on the Philadelphia 76ers, mostly because he was sidelined with a strange shoulder injury while fellow 2017 draftees Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell emerged for the Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz, respectively.
Now, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, the most famous Sixer of all, is here to say Philly should’ve taken Tatum.
“Tatum probably should have been the first pick in the draft. He was there. I guess there was just, it was all about the fit. And we took Fultz, Philly took Fultz, and obviously Fultz’s whole rookie year — I think he’ll be a rookie again next year sorta like Simmons because of the injuries. But Tatum has been awesome, it just seems as though when you get a player who can raise the level of their game at playoff time, you’ve got somebody special.
“Usually after college, it’s a struggle to make it to the next level, and that’s why there’s only a handful of players who really make it to the next level, and now when you make it to the next level and you’re able to elevate your game — aka Donovan Mitchell, Tatum and a few of the rookies. … I like Tatum. I like what he brings to the table.”
It’s unclear how much Erving, who has served as a special advisor to Philadelphia’s ownership group in years past, was swayed by Game 1 of the Celtics-76ers series on Tuesday, when Tatum dropped a career-high 28 points in a 113-112 victory. He’s been good all year, of course, starting for the league’s best defensive outfit and developing into a go-to scoring option once Boston lost Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. There’s a lot to like, especially since Tatum often relies on a swooping Dr. J layup:
But the door isn’t closed on Fultz. There is cause for concern, though. The shoulder soreness that altered his shooting mechanics over the summer was “completely gone” by December, according to the Sixers, but the broken jump shot remained, and the team’s inability to explain the issue in the five months since has led to questions about whether it is health-related or merely a mental block.
Fultz did close the season with a triple-double against the Milwaukee Bucks, much to his teammates’ delight, but he hasn’t seen the floor in Philadelphia’s last three playoff games after playing just nine minutes combined in the previous two. This while Tatum (and Mitchell) are playing 40 minutes a night.
In retrospect, concerns about Tatum’s fit in Philadelphia seem ludicrous, since a lights-out shooter who can defend multiple positions would look awfully good between Simmons and Joel Embiid.
Few people penciled Tatum in above Fultz before the draft, but Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was one of them, trading the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia for the right to draft Tatum third and pick up an extra lottery pick in the process. Ainge has since said the Celtics would have drafted Tatum with the No. 1 pick had they not made the trade. Through one season and a single game of their Eastern Conference semifinals, it sure looks like the Celtics got the best of the deal.
That Erving conceded this publicly doesn’t seem like the best boost for a guy who has struggled to find his shooting stroke. Maybe Fultz will use it as fuel for the future, because he and Tatum should be at each other’s necks for years to come in this rivalry. That’s one thing Dr. J knows better than anyone.
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