Tatum scored 28 points during a 117-101 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between Boston and Philadelphia. Fultz did not play due to a coach's decision.
"Tatum probably should have been the first pick in the draft," Dr. J said Thursday morning on ESPN's Get Up!
"He was there. I guess it was all about the fit. We took Fultz. Philly took Fultz. Obviously his rookie year, I think he'll be a rookie again next year, sort of like [Ben] Simmons, because of all the injuries."
Before Game 2 on Thursday night, Fultz responded by brushing aside Erving's comments.
"I proved why I should be the No.1 pick in college and they drafted me as the No. 1 pick," he told Philly.com. "Now, I'm here. All I can do is improve and keep moving from here. That's all it is."
Tatum and Fultz probably will always be linked. The Sixers traded the third pick in the 2017 draft and another future first-rounder to the Celtics for the No. 1 overall pick. Philly selected Fultz, 19, who played one year at Washington. Boston took Tatum, 20, who had played one year at Duke.
A shoulder injury limited Fultz to 14 games and contributed to concerns about his shooting form. He averaged 7.1 points, 3.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 18.1 minutes per game during the regular season. He played three games in the first round against Miami and scored five points.
Sixers coach Brett Brown kept Fultz on the bench for the final two games of that series and the opener against the Celtics, saying that he was going with the rotation that got Philadelphia to the playoffs.
Tatum, on the other hand, played in 80 games in the regular season, averaging 13.9 points and 5.0 rebounds in 30.5 minutes per game. In eight games during the playoffs, he's averaging 17 points and 5 rebounds.
"Tatum has been awesome," Erving said. "When you get a player who can raise the level of his game come playoff time, then you've got somebody special, because usually after college, it's tough to make it to the next level. That's why only a handful of players really make it to the next level."
The Celtics had to overcome the loss of big free-agent signing Gordon Hayward in the first game of the season. Tatum stepped in to fill the void. But when All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving went down before the playoffs, Boston's high hopes looked dashed. Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier, however, kept the Celtics on a winning track; they even beat the Sixers in Game 1 without Brown, who has a hamstring injury but returned off the bench for Game 2.
"I like Tatum. I like his game. I like what he brings to the table," Erving said.
Tatum is in the mix for Rookie of the Year, but Simmons has the inside track, with Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell coming on strong. Dr. J seemed to endorse Simmons, whose official rookie season last year was wiped out by injury.
"I just love watching Simmons play," Erving said. "He's a special player. There's no question about that. I think he'll get a chance to prove it more so as the playoffs go on."