PHILADELPHIA — Last May, Duke freshman Jayson Tatum figured he might be headed to the 76ers after the NBA draft lottery was completed. Philadelphia had secured the No. 3 pick, and Tatum was certain that Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball would be taken with the first two selections.
The 76ers sent a large contingent to see Tatum work out in Los Angeles, and they left impressed.
“He had sort of a different type of NBA game where a lot of his workout was at that sort of Carmelo [Anthony] isolation, the 18-foot spot where he can turn and face and have a series of moves that we felt like actually could translate to the NBA,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said Friday. “And then he started picking and popping and shooting NBA threes. But his offensive ability stood out, and the person stood out.”
Tatum had a sense that the 76ers were interested, too.
“I definitely thought there was a high chance I was going to be drafted by Philly, especially after my workout with them, because it went really well,” he said. “But I was going to be excited to be drafted by whoever.”
Of course, Tatum did not become a 76er. Philadelphia traded the No. 3 pick and a future first-round pick to the Celtics in exchange for the No. 1 overall choice, which the 76ers ultimately used to take Fultz.
With both of these teams having young, talented cores and plenty of future assets, there is a strong belief that they will be battling for Eastern Conference supremacy within a few years. And along the way, there will be debates and discussions about which team got the better end of this year’s huge predraft deal.
“I’m pretty sure me and [Fultz] will always be connected by that trade that went down,” Tatum said. “It’ll be interesting to see how things play out over the years.”
The 76ers and Celtics faced each other in summer league play, and on Friday night, although it was just a preseason game, Fultz and Tatum’s teams played against each other for the first time with real rosters.
Some of the intrigue was quickly wiped away when it was announced that Fultz would miss the game with shoulder soreness and for scheduled rest. But Brown said he likely will play in Boston on Monday night.
Tatum and Fultz were in the same graduating class in high school and have played against each other in plenty of showcase events over the years. Tatum considers Fultz a friend and is eager to see how their careers develop and intersect.
“He gets better all the time,” Tatum said. “I mean, he didn’t play varsity until his junior year, so just to see the growth that he’s had in his game and how offensively gifted he is, especially coming off pick and rolls he’s just so smooth, and I think he’s only going to get better. We’ve had good matchups.”
On Friday night, Fultz watched from the bench as Tatum received his first pro start. He appeared comfortable and confident, drilling his first three jump shots before finishing with 9 points and five rebounds.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has said that he plans to experiment with lineups and groups throughout the preseason, and forward Marcus Morris, a likely starter, has yet to play. But Tatum’s shot as a starter was an indication that Stevens is pleased with his progress after just two weeks of practices.
“The biggest thing is that he’s totally committed to being as good of a defender as he can be,” Stevens said of Tatum. “When you put guys out there with Kyrie [Irving] and Gordon [Hayward] and Al [Horford], we need guys that make the team around them better . . . We want to try to be the best that we can be on both ends, and I’m encouraged by Jayson’s start defensively thus far.”