It’s a question that could take years to answer, but expect plenty of knee-jerk analysis when Fultz makes his pro debut Monday night against Boston in the opener of the Utah Jazz Summer League.
The Philadelphia 76ers selected Fultz with the top pick after swapping spots with the Celtics before last month’s draft. The two teams meet Monday to kick off Utah’s four-team, four-day summer soiree at the Huntsman Basketball Facility on the campus of the University of Utah (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV). The Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs join the Celtics and the 76ers in the quartet.
With Gordon Hayward scheduled to meet with Jazz brass in San Diego on Monday — after visiting with the Celtics in Boston on Sunday and the Miami Heat on Saturday — his free-agency decision could overshadow the on-court action in Utah.
But Monday’s game should provide a good diversion as the Celtics, Jazz, and Heat await an announcement on Hayward’s future.
Fultz has repeatedly downplayed the notion that he’ll use Boston’s decision to move down as fuel. He has said he’s motivated to simply prove Philadelphia made the right choice by taking him at No. 1.
“I don’t feel [pressure], actually. Other people might feel it but, me, I just feel like I’m out here having fun,” Fultz told reporters at the 76ers’ summer league practice last week. “I don’t feel any pressure right now. I set my own goals and that’s all I worry about. I don’t worry about what other people have for me.”
After moving back to the No. 3 pick, Boston selected Duke forward Jayson Tatum. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has maintained that Boston would have picked Tatum with the No. 1 pick but, in moving back, the Celtics were able to add a future asset. Boston gets the Los Angeles Lakers‘ 2018 first-round pick if it lands between No. 2-5 in next year’s lottery, otherwise Boston will receive the Sacramento Kings‘ 2019 first-round pick, unless it’s No. 1, in which case Boston would receive Philadelphia’s pick that year.
The 6-foot-8 Tatum is known for his offensive prowess. He went viral this week after making 10 straight 3-pointers during a post-practice shooting contest with 2016 No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown. The Celtics are high on Tatum’s long-term potential, especially if he can develop on the defensive side and use his length to make an impact on that end.
“Jayson is going to be a great player in this league for a long time,” said Celtics summer league coach Jerome Allen. “His overall demeanor is positive and he has a high IQ. He has skill, he’s coachable, he has all the characteristics that anyone would want to be around in any setting, whether he’s a basketball player or a businessman, whether he’s a lawyer or a coach. He has the character traits to be special.”
Boston’s roster is brimming with recent draft picks. Brown, who landed on the All-Rookie second team, demanded to be part of Boston’s summer squad. Brown emerged as a consistent presence during the Celtics’ playoff run but even as Boston brass were considering limiting his summer output, Brown insisted on playing.
“I feel like I still have a lot to prove, I still got a lot to get better at,” said Brown. “So I’ll use summer league as a pivotal point to just continue to get better and just to prove a lot of the things that I think I can do that a lot people don’t think I can do.”
The Celtics’ roster also features 2016 first-round pick Ante Zizic, who spent last season stashed overseas in Europe, which included playing for former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt in Turkey. The Celtics believe the 20-year-old Croatian will be a rotation-caliber big man capable of providing defensive rebounding and toughness up front, something Boston has been thin on in recent seasons.
Boston’s roster also includes three second-round picks from last month’s draft in Semi Ojeleye (37th overall), Kadeem Allen (53), and Jabari Bird (56) and two more second-rounders from the 2016 draft in Demetrius Jackson (45) and Abdel Nader (58), who was the G-League Rookie of the Year while stashed domestically with the Maine Red Claws last season.
While Fultz and Tatum will be the featured attractions, keep an eye on Allen, who is known for his defensive talents. The 6-foot-3 guard put himself in the national spotlight back in January while limiting Fultz to 16 points on 23 shots during Arizona’s victory over Washington.
With so many recent picks, there’s heavy competition to earn a spot on Boston’s regular-season roster next season. Allen will get a chance to make an early impression at summer league if he gets called to defend Fultz in the opener.
Utah’s roster is headlined by Dante Exum, the fifth pick in the 2014 draft. Exum averaged 6.2 points and 1.7 assists in 66 appearances for the Jazz last season after missing all of 2015-16. Donovan Mitchell, the 13th pick in last month’s draft, will make his pro debut for the Jazz at summer league.
Each of the four teams in Utah play each other once over three days of games from July 3-7. All four teams will then shuffle to Las Vegas to continue summer league play that runs July 7-17.