Customary to No. 1 picks, anticipation and intrigue preceded Markelle Fultz's summer league stint. Ben Simmons captivated with his exceptional July last summer, prior to his season-ending foot injury, and Fultz had an opportunity to illustrate his offensive gifts as the team's focal point.
Primed to take the floor with his Sixers teammates in preseason, starting Oct. 4 against Memphis, Fultz can build on an encouraging summer league performance. Despite totaling a modest 64 minutes, there are many aspects - good and bad - in Fultz's game to unpack.
Along with health, the Sixers' overall success this season arguably hinges on decision-making from their main ball handlers. Summer league wasn't the ideal setting to gauge how Fultz's reads will impact a lineup with legitimate NBA talent. With a dearth of low post talent and his teammates preferring to operate from the perimeter primarily, Fultz understood offense flowed from that area. (Also, rarely you saw a backdoor cut to assist the ball handler.)
Assuming the role of playmaker, Fultz utilized dribble handoffs (DHO) to open his teammates up for perimeter looks in rhythm. While certainly not as sexy as Simmons' no-look twirls to cutters, Fultz generated open shots for shooters.
Fultz totaled just two dribble handoff assists, but there were five other opportunities for assists from DHOs. Fultz was hosed by wings missing looks NBA talent would normally can, and he should've tallied more than his seven. (A scoring error cost Fultz an assist on a fastbreak pass to Larry Drew II which would've given him eight.)
Feeding trigger-happy wings, and even bigs, clean looks from the perimeter from the simple offense emphasized his basketball IQ. Fultz initially shared the backcourt with Larry Drew II as a secondary ball handler. However, Fultz transitioned into the lead ball handler with Drew assuming a bench role. Saddled with duties of a modern scoring point guard, Fultz generally made questionable decisions throughout summer league.
Dissecting his 12 turnovers, many were caused by Fultz's recklessness and carelessness, not from his passes. Driving with his head down into Jaylen Brown, attempting to conquer double teams solo multiple times and an assortment of dribbling violations turned into empty possessions and highlighted his inexperience. Additionally, the point guard struggled with settling for jumpers and hoisting when could've potentially distributed the ball.
Fultz shooting off-balance, contested jumpers with 18-plus seconds left on the shot clock almost has the same negative impact of turning over the ball after dribbling in traffic. Translating into a regular season perspective, Brett Brown assuredly will be in Fultz's ear if he opts for a low-efficiency jumper. For 24 seconds, Philadelphia should be able to set up one efficient shot, minimum, each possession with Brown's creativity and weapons now at his disposal.
As shown in the video above, Fultz's lacking awareness creates missed opportunities. Fultz had roughly 17 seconds to assess how he could overcome 7-foot Damian Jones or reset. Choosing to run with a step-back jumper after a jab step that didn't shake his man, instead of passing to an open Furkan Korkmaz flailing his arms, was a forgettable moment. During both the rushed attempts against Utah, Fultz completely disregarded his teammates with ample shot clock time.
Fultz might've missed out on assist chances from his teammates errant shot attempts, but he also left additional chances on the table. Additionally, along with early, inefficient shots, Fultz wasn't deterred by defenders contesting his looks.
His confidence can be interpreted as both a positive and negative aspect of Fultz's summer league. Fultz was the offensive catalyst, and his willingness to take on anyone might've clouded his judgment on some plays. Whether it was Jones, Semi Ojeleye, or a wing contesting his pull-ups, Fultz wasn't bashful. Sometimes, defenders could close out because Fultz's release isn't exceptionally quick. However, there's a silver lining here.
Keep in mind, Fultz dealt with quicker and more lengthy defenders than in college so his timing is still in development.
This sequence, on subsequent possessions, exemplifies Fultz adjusting and figuring out spacing. It's also another teaching moment for Brown. When Fultz plants, Jayson Tatum is ~four feet from him and ready to contest. Tatum's wingspan and timing gets Fultz in limbo and forces a dish mid-air. Fast forward to the following possession, and Fultz's periphery picks up Demetrius Jackson before his deep two-point attempt.
Jackson doesn't mirror Tatum's length and Fultz is able to set, square up and fire while Jackson trailed. While both shots can be categorized as contested, Fultz would hopefully be able to evaluate his individual matchups. However, the same problem arose over the next two games.
While he totaled more turnovers than assists and could've cut some of the tough looks out of his offensive diet, Fultz used his handles to set up quality looks. Discussing this in further detail within another section, Fultz's tunnel vision allowed him to focus on how he'd craft a scoring opportunity for himself.
Embracing a secondary ball handling gig to complement Simmons, Fultz's decision-making will still carry significant weight during the regular season. It's an area Fultz and Brown could analyze together in a budding player-coach relationship. Honing in on Fultz's decision-making through training camp surrounded by his actual supporting cast would be ideal.
Ball Handling/Shot Creation
While Fultz didn't replicate Simmons' demigod-like vision or passing toolset, he used advanced offensive moves to create openings for himself. Part of Fultz's allure is control and skill as a dribbler in the halfcourt. Fultz wowed with these skills, but in doing so turned the ball over too often. While some turnovers resulted from poor play from his teammates, Fultz needs to work on polishing his handle.
Fultz's ball handling was under a microscope almost every possession he graced the floor. Thanks to his high usage (35.4%), we were able to witness his array of offensive moves and also where he might utilize them as a rookie.
Fultz regularly turned to his in-and-out dribble and spin moves to create in the halfcourt. While he didn't utilize this as much in summer league, Fultz is also deadly with the hang dribble. Behind-the-back dribbles were seldom used and Fultz coughed the ball up on one of his attempts. Fultz also let the ball get too far from his body on a spin move, leading to a turnover, but it set up a few of his made baskets.
Confidence and dexterity with his spin moves helped Fultz achieve ideal angles to the basket or shot attempts. Fultz rarely attacked with an iso, but on Celtics second rounder Semi Ojeleye, Fultz constructed an in-and-out dribble-spin move combination that led to a converted right-hand baseline layup (see the first clip in the embedded video below. In pick-and-rolls, Fultz consistently chose the spin move to counter the switch.
There were the violent spins against Jayson Tatum, Tony Bradley, and Ante Zizic, which were followed by shots near the basket, and some less deliberate spin moves that started offensive sets. Fultz would sense an incoming ball screen, pretend to cut with either hand on his man, spin to curl around the screen and leave his defender eating the pick.
With his roll men providing little assistance cutting and wings acting as statues, instead of moving off of the ball, Fultz had plenty of reps trying to beat his switch off the dribble. His crossover following a ball screen into a light spin move and Dirk-esque stepback over center Damian Jones was one of his purer offensive sequences throughout summer league. While not having the same flair as his spin move, Fultz's in-and-out dribble still proved effective.
In the clip above, Fultz used an in-and-out dribble with his off-hand to carve out space against Jaylen Brown, whom Kaleb Tarczewski failed to hold a screen on, and sank an up-and-under layup. He pairs force from his non-pivot foot with the dribble order to create motion and deception heading towards the hoop.
Fultz hits the second gear to build momentum and even though he'd prefer meticulously carving up his defender, it's promising to see him use his athleticism when necessary. Despite some gaffes controlling the ball, Fultz can rely on his handle at the top of the key or to create offense against his cover.
When limiting mistakes, Fultz has massive potential as a secondary ball handler or a primary one when Simmons leaves the floor. With the option utilize crisp spins, effortless in-and-outs, the ability to slither through the P&R, or design a play for himself, Fultz has a lot of skills to tap into. Also, it'd be a sin not to acknowledge that vicious shammgod Fultz successfully performed on McCaw.
Fultz shot 40.9 percent (18-for-44) during summer league, showing range on his jumpers and touch near the basket. The one minor aspect that stood out was Fultz used his right-hand on a few attempts that called for his left, but overall Fultz played the part of a polished scorer.
Breaking apart his shot mechanics, Fultz relies on a small dip during his motion to create rhythm. Legs are an important part of his upward movement, which means he's not heavily reliant on his upper body. The apex of Fultz's release is above his head and away from his face. An NBA shooter will sometimes have the ball close to their face when they come up from their dip, but Fultz gets the ball out and up when he fires.
At 6-foot-4 and potential for added growth, Fultz's physical makeup, paired with his shooting ability, is nightmarish for opponents. Just ask Demetrius Jackson what went through his head having to cover Fultz on an island.
Jackson guarded Fultz tightly on the perimeter when Fultz received the ball from Larry Drew II. With one left-hand dribble and a hesitation from Fultz, Jackson bit and lost his balance. Fultz capitalized, planted with his left foot and gathered. He performed his motion, and Jackson was helpless. Fultz got his release off high and nailed the three, rendering Jackson a mere spectator. This sequence from Fultz would later be dubbed "hesi pull-up jimbo" by one of the best shooters in today's game, Kevin Durant.
He'll benefit from a naturally high release on fadeaways and instances where he'll have to shoot over length. Even though he might've taken an excessive amount of contested looks, they're valuable game reps and Fultz showed he was capable of making tough looks at the University of Washington. When he felt he had an open shot in summer league, Fultz wasn't gun-shy.
Curling around ball screens and using DHOs, Fultz created easy shot attempts for himself.
The high-ball screen Jonah Bolden sequence was another gem from Fultz, which spotlighted his balance, footwork, handle, creativity, and shooting. Substitute Joel Embiid in for Bolden and that play type could be something Brett Brown runs for the duo during the regular season.
Fultz used an in-and-out dribble and hesitation that made James Southerland's legs buckle, stepped back and canned the fadeaway three. To perform that detailed sequence is difficult in its own right, but Fultz faded to his own bench in midair as well. That's high-level basketball from a 19-year-old guard and speaks to his ability to sink difficult attempts anywhere on the floor.
Overall, Fultz led the Summer Sixers with six made threes through three games in 16 attempts. With one heave attempt, you could argue Fultz essentially shot a respectable 40 percent from deep during summer league.
Fultz was a 64.9 percent free throw shooter in college and went 6-of-9 (66.7%) from the charity stripe in summer league. There's a slight pause before he releases, coming up from his motion, and Fultz is more capable of shooting a higher percentage than what his his historical free throw percentage would indicate. However, the guard wasn't satisfied and has undergone an alteration of his free throw mechanics.
Via training camp footage, Fultz appears to have overhauled his motion, holding his right elbow parallel to his hip and guiding the ball on the way up with his right hand far away from his body.
Tracking back to summer league, Fultz struggled with long two-point attempts and from midrange, only shooting 5-of-14 (35.7%) from those areas collectively. However, carrying a lacking supporting cast offensively, he constantly dealt with defenders playing him tight. Embiid and J.J. Redick are necessary complements who'll draw attention away from Fultz in the halfcourt. And as mentioned above, some of those attempts were ill-advised
Embiid, Redick, and Ben Simmons will also ease Fultz's up-tempo NBA transition. Fultz looked competent as a ball handler manning the fast break. He made smart reads by locating trailers for scoring opportunities, and seeing him scan the floor and assess was promising. He threw a Simmons-lite, dart pass leading Larry Drew II that was one of his more impressive summer league finds. When he chose to take on a defender one-on-one heading to the basket, Fultz showed potential as a transition finisher.
While he shot 7-of-14 on one-hand attempts, comprised of floaters, layups and up-and-unders, Fultz kept the ball away from his man and his body control continues to amaze.
Fultz generally struggled to finish with his left, even using his right at times when he'd be better suited using his left. Fultz's dexterity factored into his made baskets, leaving his feet to contort and attempting to shoot over length multiple times. Shooting 61.6 percent at the rim in college, Fultz has touch and he displayed it with his right all three games. The fact that four of his seven made one-handed attempts were floaters, along with one up-and-under, illustrates his finishing torpedoed his efficiency. He's still physically evolving at 19 and close-range attempts will be a fixture in his offensive attack. It's a process.
There are reservations about how Fultz will fare guarding the one in the NBA, an offensively loaded position. His first taste combatting a legitimate point guard came against Utah's Dante Exum. Off-ball, Fultz would shadow Exum and on one play, denied a feed from one of Utah's bigs back to the point. There was optimism, and then Exum swiftly crushed it.
Fultz had no chance containing Exum off the dribble and the few times he turned his hips and tracked him, Exum drew a foul or made a tough layup. Exum isn't the craftiest shot creator, but he picked apart Fultz because the rookie's technique simply isn't refined.
Exum teed off on Fultz, whose arms hung to his sides and upright positioning left him helpless. Absent was the intensity shown denying Exum off-ball and Fultz going under two screens left a wide open Exum to knock down two threes with ease. An attacking Jaylen Brown also caught Fultz with his hands to his sides and out of defensive position.
Playing off-ball mostly during the Celtics game, while Larry Drew II guarded the point, wasn't ideal preparation for Exum's onslaught. Luwawu-Cabarrot had to relieve Fultz, but the rookie's demotion might've been a blessing in hindsight. Losing a matchup battle, Fultz proactively decided he'd commit against the Golden State Warriors on that end.
I want criticism that's going to make me better as a player to help this team, Fultz said. Once I step out here in Vegas, I'm working on my defense, keeping my man in front, screen, getting through screens, being tough on the defensive end.
Immediately, Fultz gave off the impression that he's devoted towards improvement and accepting his failures. That was in his second game as a professional, and his comments speak volumes about his character. The significance of Fultz handling adversity with poise and professionalism cannot be understated.
Fultz made good on his comments. Against the Warriors, Fultz gave more effort defensively and shuffled his feet consistently in order to take away line drives to the rim.
In other areas defensively, Fultz displayed aggression. Markelle Fultz will bring chase-down and recovery blocks from the point guard position to Philadelphia.
Blessed with a 6'9" wingspan and sporting a bouncy 195-pound build, Fultz showed he's capable of weak-side help and rejections trailing his target.
He also was a pesky help defender. Fultz would swipe at his teammate's man to try and pry the ball, sometimes successfully, but his inexperience showed. Often, Fultz lost track of his man from helping and he'd put himself in limbo deciding whether to help or not. Brett Brown can teach through film when to scope out opportunities for strong-side help and when to avoid sagging off his cover.
Any big who can handle the ball in the post and locate a shooter when help defense comes would be lethal against the Sixers if Fultz attempted that repeatedly during a game.
Fultz also tended to lose track of his man cutting to the basket or moving in the halfcourt against Boston. He didn't get burned because of it, but, again, teams will target him for easy baskets.
Assessing his rebounding efforts, Fultz would primarily retreat back and forego grabbing offensive boards. Fultz hauled in 3.0 rebounds per contest but didn't show anything noteworthy outside of one grab-and-go attempt. Fultz pushed the pace, saw James Blackmon Jr. as an open trailer, fed him but Blackmon botched the layup.
Carrying over to offense, when mentioning activity, Fultz would rather float on the perimeter and cut to the ball than cut to the basket off-ball. Additionally, Fultz would jog to an open area where the ball handler could find him and he'd have a wide open jump shot attempt or be in a prime scoring position. It was a heady play from the rookie, whose movement turned into offense and helped his 16.0 PPG average.
Fultz generated nine points from circling the perimeter, but from a broader perspective, he might have to be moving off-ball and being available for teammates.
If Fultz continues to be proactive with fixing his deficiencies, the Sixers landed a talent who uses learning opportunities from mistakes as fuel to achieve greatness.
Defensively, Fultz's outlook is promising due to his physical tools and highlight blocks, and summer league was ideal for revealing what's necessary to compete on that end. His stance, footwork, and awareness are all moldable aspects, even if he's still green as a defender. His physical tools not only should bail him out in certain situations year one, but give him a fighting chance on that end. He also should have a 7-foot-2 behemoth as literal backup in case he loses containment.
Simmons is more of an initiator, a role Fultz failed to fulfill in summer league. This setting wasn't conducive for the scoring guard Fultz, and it'll be interesting to see his passing ability with talent flanking him. Fultz converted detailed sequences using screens, dribbles and difficult shot types, highlighting his advanced offensive approach.
And don't read too much into the efficiency. The summer league environment affected his numbers, and not having to carry the scoring burden should open up his offensive game. He has an ideally crafted supporting cast, limitless offensive potential, and a work ethic that'll allow him to thrive as a Sixer.