BOSTON (CBS) — Jayson Tatum and Markelle Fultz are forever linked. Comparisons are inevitable after the Celtics and 76ers swung their blockbuster pre-draft trade – and while it’s impossible to make any definitive judgments just a handful of games into each of their careers, the deal has worked out for the C’s in the early going as their starts couldn’t be more different.
Tatum had a breakout game in Tuesday’s 110-89 win over the Knicks at TD Garden, scoring 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting and sparking the Celtics with an eye-popping put-back dunk for the team’s first basket of the game. Thrust into a bigger role in the wake of Gordon Hayward’s devastating ankle and leg injury, the 19-year-old hasn’t blinked and is already showing flashes of the offensive force he could become.
Tatum has also provided solid defense for a 19-year-old rookie, as evidenced by his four steals and two blocked shots on Tuesday. This single sequence perfectly illustrates the kind of impact he made against the Knicks:
Fultz, meanwhile, has averaged just six points in 19 minutes per game for the 76ers – but his struggles appear to be more injury-related. His agent Raymond Brothers told ESPN on Tuesday that the guard needed a cortisone shot to relieve shoulder inflammation earlier in October, revising an earlier explanation that he had fluid drained.
The 2017 No. 1 overall pick has drawn criticism in his first four games for his poor shooting, which prompted Brothers to explain that he’s had to alter his mechanics as he plays through extreme discomfort in his right shoulder.
“He literally cannot raise up his arms to shoot the basketball,” Brothers said of Fultz. “He decided to try and fight through the pain to help the team. He has a great attitude. We are committed to finding a solution to get Markelle back to 100 percent.”
Fultz should be commended for his toughness and fighting through the injury, but it’s also fair to question the 76ers for playing the prized rookie at all instead of getting him back to 100 percent before he gets back on the floor.
It’s still far too early to claim that Fultz’s situation will have any long-term ramifications for him or the Sixers, or that Tatum’s early success will continue. But for at least one season, it appears that the healthy Tatum has a better opportunity to develop his game than the injured Fultz will have in Philly.