Julius Erving: Jayson Tatum Should Have Been No. 1 Pick over Markelle Fultz

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistMay 3, 2018

Philadelphia 76ers' Markelle Fultz, left, and Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum are seen during an NBA basketball game, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
Michael Perez/Associated Press

The Philadelphia 76ers made a deal with the Boston Celtics last June to move up from No. 3 to No. 1 in the 2017 NBA draft in order to get Markelle Fultz.

One Sixers legend believes the franchise made the wrong pick.

As Philadelphia and Boston battle for a spot in the Eastern Conference finals, Jayson Tatum—taken with the third overall pick by the Celtics—is shining while Fultz is sitting on the bench. And Julius "Dr. J" Erving made it known on ESPN's Get Up on Thursday that he thought Tatum should've been the first player off the board.

"Tatum probably should have been the first pick in the draft. He was there. I guess it was all about the fit. We took Fultz. Philly took Fultz. Obviously his rookie year, I think he'll be a rookie again next year, sort of like [Ben] Simmons, because of all the injuries."

There is no debate: Tatum has had a much better season than the player picked two spots ahead of him. In his first year in Boston, the 6'8", 205-pound forward averaged 13.9 points on 47.5-percent shooting (including 43.4 percent from three-point range) and 5.0 rebounds per game.

He is making Philadelphia pay for passing on him. He scored 28 points while leading his team to a 117-101 victory in Game 1.

"Tatum has been awesome," Erving said on Get Up. "When you get a player who can raise the level of his game come playoff time, then you've got somebody special, because usually after college, it's tough to make it to the next level. That's why only a handful of players really make it to the next level."

Some rookies may get shook when asked to take on a larger role when injuries—like the season-ending ones Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving are dealing with—force them to lead the way. But not this 20-year-old.

"I enjoy it," Tatum said, per the Associated Press (h/t NBA.com). "I dreamed of having big moments and having a big role. That obviously came a lot sooner than I thought. I'm just trying to prove that I belong here."

Meanwhile, Fultz was limited to just 14 games during the regular season due to a shoulder injury. He has played in just three of the Sixers' eight postseason games thus far, and a coaching decision kept him from appearing in Monday's game.

It's easy to look at their seasons and say Tatum should have been the pick. He showed early on he could be a role player, and he has since proven he can be a No. 1 option. On the other hand, Fultz has not only had to bounce back from injury, but he's also trying to work his way into a system that's being led by stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

Boston made it known after the fact that Tatum was going to be the choice even if it had stayed at No. 1. However, acquiring additional assets while moving down and still getting their guy made it a brilliant move by the Celtics.

Both players still likely have many more years of playing in the NBA. Early on, it looks as though Tatum should have been picked ahead of Fultz, but that stance can't be cemented until both of their careers are over.

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