PHILADELPHIA – The Boston Celtics passed on the opportunity to draft Markelle Fultz with the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and instead chose to trade down and select Jayson Tatum third overall. Tonight, Tatum will have his first opportunity to face off against Fultz and show Boston’s organization that they made the right choice.
That’s what everyone on the outside will be thinking ahead of tonight’s 7 p.m. tip-off at Wells Fargo Center. Inside Tatum’s mind, however, he’ll be taking a much different mindset into the game.
“I really try not to make it too much about myself, or about me and Markelle, because we’re different positions,” Tatum told Celtics.com before this morning’s shootaround. “He’s a point guard, and I’m on the wing. Obviously I’d love to play great and win, so I think that’s just my main focus.”
For Tatum, this isn’t about Tatum vs. Fultz. It’s about Celtics vs. 76ers.
And that’s impressive coming from a 19-year-old kid.
Still, the storyline exists, and it has become even juicier since draft night.
The beginning of each players’ respective careers has not exactly began as many expected. This, in short, is what many expected: Fultz starting and playing bulk minutes for a bad team, while Tatum comes off the bench in a minimal role for a perceived title contender.
Such has not been the case through the opening week of the season. In fact, reality has nearly been the opposite of the summertime expectations.
Tatum will start tonight for the third time in as many professional games. He enters tonight’s matchup having averaged 37 minutes of action through his first two outings.
“It’s definitely different than what I expected,” the rookie said of his role on the Celtics, “but I guess it makes me more comfortable a lot faster that I’m playing so much.”
Meanwhile, Philadelphia head coach Brett Brown has decided to bring Fultz off the bench to start the season. Fultz played only 18 minutes during his NBA debut – less than half that of Tatum.
Fultz is essentially beginning his career as a role player, even though he’s on a team that has been mired in defeat for the better part of the last decade.
Quite the juxtaposition, is it not? The the player for whom the struggling Sixers traded up to add to their roster is not being given the keys, while the player for whom the Celtics traded back to add to a contender has been thrown into the fire as a starter.
Regardless of their current roles, these two players, who, according to Tatum, have known each other since their junior year of high school, will head into tonight’s contest with a competitive mindset. They want to win, and they want to shine in the process.
Tatum and Fultz texted each other earlier this week, wishing each other luck during their opening games as pros. Neither will repeat that action ahead of tonight’s tip-off, however.
“No,” Tatum said with a big smile. “Not tonight.”
No, to Tatum, tonight isn’t about friendship, and it’s not about outplaying the guy who was chosen two picks ahead of him.
Instead, tonight is only about the process of helping his team log its first victory of the season.