If you’re fortunate enough to enter the NBA as the No. 1 overall pick, chances are someone has made you aware of just how talented you are. Whether that’s from reading scouting reports, watching Stephen A. Smith yell about you on TV, or just from dominating your college competition, your own expectations naturally grow along with your profile.
As has been documented previously, Markelle Fultz isn’t your typical No. 1 pick. From playing in JV games to hiding out on a bad Washington team this past year, his path was as obscure as a No. 1 pick could have in 2017. But that hasn’t stopped him from dreaming big about his future.
“My goal is to be the best to ever play,” he told reporters during his media availability on Friday. “That’s my goal since I was a young kid. My first goal is to get to the NBA and to be a No. 1 pick, and that’s another goal I set for myself. I know it’s not going to be easy, there’s a lot of greats, and I got a lot of respect for all the people, but that’s a goal I got for myself, and that’s something I’m going to work for every day.”
Even for a player who was considered the No. 1 overall prospect by some distance, that’s a bold proclamation to make on your first full day as a professional, particularly since he’s going to have to compete hard to be the best player on his own team.
But Fultz doesn’t appear afraid to live up to lofty expectations, whether they’re for him personally or his new Sixers team as a group. His partner Joel Embiid has been telling anyone who will listen this squad is headed back to the playoffs, and Fultz is not backing down from that challenge.
“We’re going to try to turn it around this year, that’s the goal,” said Fultz. “These guys are great guys, they carry themselves in the right way ... I’m serious when I say that [playoffs are the goal]. That’s not just me talking, just because I’m a player. I really think we can do that.”
The only people who seem interested in tempering expectations are the front office and coaching staff who will develop these young stars. That’s usually how this thing goes—the teenagers and twenty-somethings dream big, only for reality and the people who have seen some shit, man to step in.
Brett Brown served up the splash of cold water on Friday, saying he knows they still have a long way to go even with this talented group.
“It doesn’t pivot me out of the responsibility to develop them,” said Coach Brown. “I have a backcourt that hasn’t played one second together, not one second in the NBA, one’s 20 and one’s 19. That’s exciting! But along that path, you’re going to have to absorb some frustrations that inevitably will come.”
As high as the city is riding right now, Sixers fans (and the franchise) have been hit with painful crashes back to Earth several times over the last few seasons; a poorly-placed foot from Shawn Long robbed the team of last year’s No. 1 pick for a full season, and no one knows if or when the Embiid roller coaster will stabilize.
Voices like Brown’s are important, as he’ll tell you himself, because these guys need to be equipped to deal with unexpected adversity.
“Dealing with maybe a losing streak, how are you going to lead? Apart from the skill package we’re talking about, now it gets to the mental side of it all,” said Brown. “That’s just the growth of a player, the growth of a person, a leader. [Markelle and Ben] are going to be dumped with a lot of responsibility, and I feel excited and equally as responsible to help them learn the NBA.”
Whether it’s Embiid covering for defensive breakdowns, Simmons sharing the playmaking burden, shooters peeling hard around screens, or Brown offering him a kind voice in tumultuous times, it will take the whole village to raise Fultz into the star he desires to be. But even if he falls short of the grandest individual goal imaginable, Fultz knows there’s one simple thing they all want and need to accomplish no matter what.
“Pretty sure we all have the same goal—to turn this program around.”
- At one point during his availability, Bryan Colangelo referred to Simmons and Fultz as the team’s “back court,” which strikes me as an interesting comment to make. Early in the offseason, he expressed a desire to add shooting, and made particular note of that desire for the four spot. Does the team really think Simmons will be best served chasing quicker, smaller players? We’ll have to wait and see.
- Elsewhere in Colangelo quotes, he softened his stance on minutes restrictions for next year—he had said earlier in the morning they may not be there—and said it will depend primarily on what doctors and physicians have to play. Don’t get too excited for limitless Embiid and Simmons yet.
- Fultz didn’t appear too interested in humoring other players aside from His Airness in the GOAT argument. “MJ, MJ’s definitely best.”
- Anzejs Pasecniks is an absolutely massive human being—peep the pictures of him standing next to Josh Harris—and he earned a few laughs when he explained what he ended up doing after being drafted. “I couldn’t sleep all night because I had this smile on my face.