The Sixers aren’t losers anymore. The bandwagon is overflowing. Multiple potential superstars line the roster. The team sold out its initial allotment of season tickets. The new world-class practice facility draws rave reviews from every player on the roster as camp kicks off. Legitimate NBA players are competing for minutes throughout the entire roster.
Gone are the days of fringe NBA players trying not to give away their shots. Gone are the brick-layers of yesteryear. Some vestiges of that era remain - here’s to Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell for kicking down their proverbial doors into the NBA - but most of the roster are well-established athletes or are high draft picks with the pedigree to be great someday. Also, Jahil Okafor is still around, but even he’s turned a new leaf.
It’s a new day, yes it is. And we’re going to celebrate it in our player previews, which will focus on the change in the air, the new faces, and the old faces in new era of Sixers basketball. We’ll compare and contrast the old and the new, though the writers here might change the format up day-by-day. Today's discussion centers around the number one pick, Markelle Fultz, who is already facing modified expectations.
It feels like a year ago that Bryan Colangelo threw a pick with complex protections on top of this year’s #3 pick at Boston for the #1 pick. We had spent the weeks since the lottery discussing the merits of Josh Jackson vs. Jayson Tatum (vs. Malik Monk vs. Dennis Smith Jr. vs. etc.). We didn’t need to do that anymore. Bryan clarified the path, and Markelle Fultz would be coming to the Sixers.
There was reason to be excited. Since 2000, Fultz was one of only a dozen Freshman to shoot 40+% from three (on at least 4.5 attempts per game), while averaging 19+ points per game. Some of those other guys? C.J. McCollum, D’Angelo Russell, O.J. Mayo, Jamal Murray, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant ... and Jerryd Bayless. Among all of those players Fultz had the highest FG%, he led in assists, and was second to only Durant in rebounds. The hype was real.
In Summer League, he looked great until he sprained an ankle, averaging 20/3.5/3 in two games. In pre-season he looked good until he showed up with a sore shoulder, a modified shot form - especially from the line, where he was never that good anyway - and some sick new kinesiology tape.
Brett Brown has announced that Markelle Fultz will start the season off the bench, though saying “with the second unit” is definitely better. Brown said the decision was made because Fultz missed a hearty chunk of pre-season. ““He hasn’t played much basketball in preseason,” Brown told reporters on Sunday. “I think the decision like, do you put him into the fire right away and have him play against starting NBA defensive players, especially with the little foundation that he has? I don’t think that’s smart.”
Brett isn’t wrong. There’s a lot of worrying around Fultz that I’m really trying not to buy-in to. There are no real facts about his shoulder soreness that we can point to and say “cool, he just needs a week or so to rest that and he’ll be good.” That’s not great (though we know not to trust initial injury reports anyway). But let me ask this, what’s more likely: Fultz is going through an adjustment period and some shoulder soreness so he’d do better to be eased into the NBA game? Or is it more likely that the dude who was the near consensus number one pick four months ago just stinks now? I’m going with the former.
Even when his shot didn’t fall in pre-season, he showed his ability to make plays and handle the ball. Even when he was unable to convert free throws, he showed his ability to get to the rim and draw the foul. Let’s not forget that those aspects looked pretty solid in the Boston game.
Fultz coming off of the bench isn’t the lineup we expected to start the season, but he’s going to be our first highly-touted rookie in literal years to actually play his true rookie year. I’ll take that.