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Sixers vs. Celtics preview: Markelle Fultz vs. Jayson Tatum is all that matters

This game means nothing and everything at the same time.

NBA: Draft Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I know what you’re thinking—a preview for a Summer League game during the Fourth of July holiday? And when the Sixers-Celtics game rolls around at 7:00 p.m. on Monday night, you will see fairly quickly how fruitless watching Summer League can be.

But look, as much as Summer League games can matter, this one does. Not because we’re going to learn much about anyone, but because it is the first opportunity for Markelle Fultz to remind Danny Ainge he made a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad trade when he squandered the opportunity to take him at No. 1.

The Sixers made out like bandits regardless of who they executed the deal with, but you can’t beat the added bonus of making their big draft trade with the Celtics. Boston effectively signaled a message in bold, flashing letters to Fultz when they moved the No. 1 pick: “We don’t think you’re the guy.” After months of people writing him into that slot, the team who actually ended up winning the lottery traded out of it to allow a division rival to do the honors.

There are very few people who go No. 1 overall and can use “doubters” as a motivational tool, but Fultz gets to do so from the very first game he’ll suit up for professionally. Based on stories he has told the media—and a quick glance through his Twitter likes—that sort of stuff matters to him. Here’s a blurb on him from a profile in the Washington Post:

To Fultz, he has succeeded for two reasons: his small but powerful support system and the many times he has been overlooked, cheated, marginalized, held back and kept in the shadows. Driven less by hubris than insecurity, he remembers coaches who cut him and players who once overshadowed him; when he goes online, he skips the mock drafts, which almost universally list him as the top pick, and instead occasionally searches his name on Twitter to read the barbed ramblings of strangers.

When the Sixers take the court in Utah tonight, my hope is that he sees Jayson Tatum and wants to rip the Celtics apart limb by limb. While Ainge continues to sit on the “war chest” of assets, he let the best prospect go to a division rival. And I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Things to watch

Fultz playing off-the-ball

As I noted in my dispatch from the team’s mini-camp on Friday, the Sixers sound like they’re planning to play Fultz and veteran guard Larry Drew II together a decent amount. In those sort of lineups, we’ll get a taste of Fultz’s ability to play a in more of a scoring mode, and I’m interested to see if he’ll flash some nice catch-and-shoot ability early.

TLC’s three-point range

We know Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is more than capable as a an off-ball cutter, but he’s going to need a reliable jump shot to have a chance at playing heavy minutes moving forward. His journey toward a mid-30s percentage from deep starts tonight, and he’ll get his first chance to prove he deserves to play alongside whichever playmaker leads the Sixers’ second unit in the fall.

Pick-and-rolls with Bolden

I wasn’t necessarily all that jazzed up about the Jonah Bolden pick in round two—they already have a few guys who need minutes at the four—but his skill set will undoubtedly make him a nice partner for Fultz in Summer League. He’s athletic enough to serve as a nice rolling target after setting screens, and he’s skilled enough that he should be able to run some action of his own as the ball handler.

The Sixers have a lot of guards and small-ish forwards on the roster, so Bolden will be leaned on heavily to help Fultz run one of the NBA’s staple plays.

TV: The Comcast Network

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