Unlike in years past, the Sixers won’t be using their Summer League team to hold a series of auditions to solidify the opening day roster. They have a lot of starters and backups who are locked in as pieces of the future, and the concern these days isn’t discovering a lottery ticket, but making sure things go smoothly for the couple big-name players getting reps during Summer League.
If you listen to Sixers assistant coach Billy Lange, it doesn’t sound like there’s going to be much of an adjustment period or a need to accommodate for Markelle Fultz. Lange told reporters Fultz is still learning the terminology he’ll need to run the Sixers’ offense, but the rest of the game comes naturally to him.
“He’s got so much ability, his shake and bake game is very old school, so as he’s understanding nomenclature and positioning, he can then go out and do things that are just natural for him,” said Lange. “His ability to drive and absorb contact, change direction in a split second, you can see some of that today and you’ll see more as he gets comfortable.”
Despite how easy the game comes for Fultz, the team says he’ll be be guided by teammates young and old on his journey, particularly as he learns the playbook. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot—who is three years Fultz’s senior despite only having one year of NBA experience over him—insists he’s made it a point of emphasis to get in Fultz’s ear to make sure he’s comfortable in his new surroundings.
The prioritization of Fultz’s needs extend beyond just talking, though. Larry Drew II is back for another stint with the summer Sixers, and Lange emphasized how important it was for the Sixers to get a true point guard onto the roster. And he won’t just be backing up this year’s No. 1 pick.
“So much of a summer league team’s joy is found in the point guard, and LD will get rid of the ball,” said Lange. “We’ve been fortunate to have TJ the last two years that was in that mold, so it made it better. For a guy like Markelle, who’s going to get his first professional basketball experience, to be with a humble, selfless point guard like Larry, is a real treat for us. They’ll play together.”
The Sixers know Fultz is going to have to learn to play without the ball in his hands a lot. He has the capability and skill set to do so, but as the alpha dog at Washington, he was firmly in control of the offense at all times. Summer League will be his first chance to get serious reps off the ball in a long time—though you can still expect him to guide the offense quite a bit.
Whatever the case is, Fultz’s debut against the Boston Celtics on July 3 is one of the most anticipated events of the summer for Sixers fans.
Other Camp Notes
TLC’s shooting is a big point of emphasis
The Sixers continue to sound high on Luwawu’s long-term future, but they do not mince words regarding what they need him to improve. The shot is everything for TLC.
“I can tell you what he needs to do to become a better basketball player, and that is to continue to hunt three point shots and be able to knock them down,” said Lange. “He’s not a guy that has to have the basketball to be effective. He’s a really good floor runner, really good at just cutting and moving without the basketball in the half court.”
“With guys like Ben and Joel, that’s a real needed skill for us. So if we can develop the jump shot a little bit better, Timmy will play a lot.”
The young wing is doing his part to improve that area of this game. During the segment of Friday’s mini-camp that was open to the public, TLC ran through a barrage of shooting drills along with Robert Covington and Joel Embiid (more on him later), looking a little smoother with his release than he has in the past.
Jumper looking pretty smooth from TLC. pic.twitter.com/ds4hWIWWI7— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) June 30, 2017
Mechanically, there are still some things to clean up—his hand placement leaves a little something to be desired—but he ultimately feels he is headed in the right direction.
“I have to work on off-the-dribble and all that kind of stuff, but I think my shot improved a lot this year,” he said. “I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t need the ball to get open shots. Just have to move and get to the right spots at the right time.”
Joel Embiid is a savage, even during casual workouts
Sixers fans got a sneak peek of Embiid’s competitiveness when they watched him dive over chairs and bust his ass on both ends during his rookie year. And if you thought he might have an off switch while going through workouts at the practice facility, think again.
Running through the aforementioned shooting drills, Embiid and Covington relentlessly talked shit as they went through a series of shooting simulations. They went through every possible routine you can imagine—curling off screens, mid-range step backs, corner threes—and the big man more than held his own, besting their do-it-all wing in a number of drills.
It's really disorienting to see a 7'2 guy go through pull-up shooting drills so smoothly pic.twitter.com/xCq325hrlf— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) June 30, 2017
The weirdest part of it all (despite watching him do a lot of this stuff last season) is how easy it appears to be for him. He missed two full seasons as a young player, has very little basketball experience generally, and yet he’s able to casually knock down one-legged shots from three as if it’s not a big deal.
Embiid hitting some casual one-legged threes pic.twitter.com/KEPKDcvihG— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) June 30, 2017
Don’t mistake how easy it looks for a commentary on the work that goes into getting him to this point. As a lot of the mini-camp participants and other stragglers around the facility made their way to the showers and/or out of the facility, Embiid and Covington just kept going and going, hoisting up shots as their legs began to tire.
And just as the media was set to leave the gym, Embiid started drifting to the other end of the court, still jostling Covington on his way there. He stopped for a brief moment during his walk, eyeing up the basket from half court.
I don’t have to tell you he swished it, right?