On June 19, 2017, the Boston Celtics sent the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for the third pick and a protected first (either the Lakers’ or the Kings’ pick) to the Celtics. The Sixers were sure that the University of Washington’s Markelle Fultz was their point guard of the future that they needed to trade up for him to ensure that no one else selects him.

“No one,” specifically means the Celtics, who owned the first pick.

Boston was more than happy with the deal as they were able to get the player that they wanted all along in Jayson Tatum while grabbing another pick for future use in the process.

Needless to say, the Sixers were hoodwinked.

Markelle Fultz
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The Players

At the time of the draft, Fultz was regarded as the best player with the biggest upside after a year at Washington. His scoring ability along with his playmaking skills made him an intriguing prospect especially with the number of excellent point guards in the league today. Plus, at 6-foot-4, Fultz is bigger than most playmakers with the ability to slide into the shooting guard position depending on the match-ups. He possesses a 6’10” wingspan which is perfect for playing defense in the NBA.

What kept him from playing up to the expectations, no doubt was his shoulder injury that baffled the entire league. He was shooting awkwardly with a form that was nowhere near the one that he showed off in college. When he was finally placed on the injured list after just four games into the season, it was a relief for everyone concerned, to say the least.

Markelle Fultz
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After returning to the hardwood on March 26, Fultz showed flashes of brilliance despite getting his shots blocked a couple of times. He looked like he was still getting comfortable being out on the floor but the familiarity will come in due time.

“I was just trying to do the little things to help my team win,” Fultz said. “I wasn’t really looking forward to any stats.”

“I just wanted to help these guys,” Fultz added. “They supported me. The coaching staff supported me. I’m just trying to be the best teammate I can possibly be.”

After four games playing in limited minutes, the jury is still out on Fultz after showing some inconsistency. Perhaps next season will be his real rookie year.

At 6-foot-9, Tatum had an NBA-ready body in college with a game (and a 6-foot-11 wingspan) that could translate well into the professional league. He could dribble the ball well and shoot the rock with consistency from mid-to-long range similar to the Celtics’ Paul Pierce.

Once he entered the league, it was clear that Tatum belonged with the some of the best.

Jayson Tatum
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Though still developing, Tatum is capable of creating his own shot, a luxury that any team in the league would appreciate from their rookie.

He started the season strong, averaging 14.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game in November. He also shot 50 percent from three-point range, a bonus that the Celtics and coach Brad Stevens certainly were surprised to find out was in his arsenal.

With Irving out for a few more weeks, Tatum has shown what he is truly capable of. Stevens employed him at the point during certain moments in the 110-99 win over the East-leading Toronto Raptors on Saturday. Whenever Terry Rozier was resting, Stevens had Tatum bring the ball up and take care of the offense for him. Despite the new responsibility, the rookie passed with flying colors. He had four assists and no turnovers.

Jayson Tatum
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“I just think as he gets more experience, he's getting better,” Stevens said, according to Mass Live’s Tom Westerholm. “He's done a great job working in the weight room, doing different things to continue to go through the long season, and he's really, really starting to peak, I think. It's been fun to watch. We played him at the one some tonight, which we haven't done yet, and it allowed us to be really big on the other end of the floor, which was nice. But obviously, he's just a talented guy. He does a lot of good things.”

In March, Tatum is averaging 16.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists. He’s also shooting the three-pointer at 44.2 percent in the month, making him one of the league’s most accurate shooters from long-range.

The Trade

Fultz was may have been the consensus number one pick, but the Sixers weren’t exactly getting a polished point guard prospect such as Chris Paul, Stephen Curry or Damian Lilllard. As complete a point guard as any in college, Fultz may well be the best player in his class eventually but at present, things are a bit foggy given his shoulder injury that prevented everyone from seeing how he would perform in the professional ranks.

markelle fultz
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Celtics boss Danny Ainge pulled off another coup when he made the Sixers deal. It’s clear that Isaiah Thomas, their point guard at the time of the trade, was still going to be their chief playmaker even if they didn’t trade him to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. There was little evidence to think that he was high on Fultz at the number one spot and if Ainge really wanted him, he would not have so easily traded away the pick in the first place.

According to The Ringer’s Kevin O'Connor, Ainge wanted Tatum all along.

“A high-level front-office source told me, and Ainge later confirmed, that both the Sixers and Celtics felt there was little separation between the no. 1 and no. 3 picks. The deal simply allowed both teams to select their preferred player. By making the deal, the Sixers guaranteed they’d get Fultz, even if it meant giving up an extra asset to do so. The Celtics, meanwhile, got a player they probably still would’ve taken at no. 1 and another asset for their trouble.”

Ainge understood that the Sixers wanted, needed in fact, Fultz more than any other player in the draft since they already had a collection of bigs in their lineup. They were looking for a scoring guard to complete The Process. The Lakers were sure to pick Lonzo Ball with the second pick. All the while, the Celtics were quietly loving the mystery surrounding the player they wanted to select with the first pick but were secretly eyeing Tatum.

Jayson Tatum
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It was the case of the Sixers being too eager for their own good while Ainge was scheming away in his office suite.

In Retrospect

Rather than trade for the first pick, the Sixers should have stood pat knowing that even if the Celtics had selected Fultz, they still had a potential future All-Star with Tatum. If they had just waited a bit, a few weeks after the draft, Irving would be made available to a trade by the Cavs and the Sixers could have easily come up with a package to trade Tatum for Irving instead.

Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz
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Now, can you imagine if Philly had Irving, Simmons and Embiid from the start of the season?

Alas, the Sixers were so enamored with Fultz worrying that he would be off the board once their time came to select a player in the draft that they made a costly mistake, one that Ainge was more than happy to take advantage of.

In the End…

However, there’s no telling how good Fultz can be in the future. We don’t even know what next season will look like for the young man as he looks to prepare himself better for the NBA grind in his second year. The Sixers would not look foolish selecting him with the first pick if Fultz realizes his potential in the coming years.

Meanwhile, Tatum looks like he’ll be an All-Star in a year or two. With his length and athleticism, he only lacks consistency and a killer instinct, two things that may come with more time and experience, in order to become one of the best players in the game.

Jayson Tatum, Stephen Curry
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If Fultz and Tatum develop into the players that many had predicted them to become, then it’s possible that both the Sixers and the Celtics came out winners in the trade. Philly made a huge gamble by trading up but that can be forgiven if Fultz proves to be the better of the two.

Even so, Philadelphia would have been better off selecting Tatum with the third pick regardless whether they kept him or not. After all, Tatum can play multiple positions and Simmons runs the show at the point anyway. With Tatum, the Sixers would have posed huge match-up problems for every team in the league including the defending champion Golden State Warriors and the league’s newest darling, the Houston Rockets.

Fultz can prove us wrong in the future so this is anything but speculation as to the future of these two players.

Judging by the performance of both players at this point, however, it’s Tatum who the Sixers should have taken with the first pick in the draft.