The Philadelphia 76ers and head coach Brett Brown are familiar with the idea of “experimentation” and “patience”. It was the calling card for the majority of Brown’s head coaching career until recently.
That mantra is returning when figuring out what to do with Markelle Fultz, but unlike most years, Brown and company may not have the kind of time with him that they had with Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, etc.
Sixers nation knows the story about Fultz -- the high of him being drafted #1 when he was presumably such a perfect fit; the low of his shoulder injury, “yips”, and him being rendered unplayable during last year’s playoff run. There’s no need to go any further than that.
Fultz spent the off-season training with Drew Hanlen working on whatever was broken. If it was his mechanics or his confidence, Fultz worked it out. There was a desire to return to form. You saw it in various Instagram posts or the piece he did with Isaiah Thomas for The Players Tribune.
Given the track record of the Sixers method for developing Noel, Embiid, and Simmons, why would anyone believe Brown and the Sixers would misfire with handling Markelle Fultz. Here’s the thing. After four games, though, I’m confused. What is the plan?
When Brown decided to put Fultz into the starting lineup from minute one, there was a mix of emotions from “Hell yes, let’s roll” to “Whoa! Are you sure you want to throw Fultz into the fire like that against the Eastern Conference favorite?”
Fultz played 24 minutes, scored five points on 2/7 shooting. Shake it off. Boston is very deep and very good both offensively and defensively. That’s a wash because everyone on the team had a bad shooting night.
Much promise was shown in the home opener against the Bulls. Fultz had an up and down first half highlighted with his first made jumper of with 9:18 left in the first half and a hustle rebound that turned into an Embiid jam. Then, it happened:
Confetti. Jubilation. Bedlam.
Take your pick. They all happened at the Wells Fargo Center.
Fultz played 32 minutes in that game and was a +5 -- largely due to the fact that game was over in the third quarter with the Sixers up 26. Last Saturday night, he played 22 minutes in the one point win over Orlando scoring eight points, pulling seven rebounds and dishing four dimes.
Last night should have been the perfect storm to play Fultz for 30+ minutes based on Ben Simmons being out of the lineup due to back tightness. (Please don’t be worse than that. Please don’t be worse than that.) Here were the guards minutes numbers from last night’s game:
- Markelle Fultz - 20:59
- TJ McConnell - 32:01
- JJ Redick - 37:20
- Landry Shamet - 24:24
Shamet was the starting SG and played 24 minutes, so you shouldn’t harp too much on his minutes. JJ played 38 minutes and kept the game interesting with ridiculous stuff like this:
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) October 24, 2018
Redick drills the three and completes a four-point play!
Sixers back in front. pic.twitter.com/ZzidTBhfe0
Sweet. Baby. Jesus. If I got in a time machine (Bill and Ted time machine, obviously) and spent years practicing shooting jump shots, I still wouldn’t even attempt that shot. Redick is a machine.
I won’t debate TJ’s minutes … too much. Staggering the time between Fultz and McConnell has become such a balancing act for Brett Brown. It’s been harder to do when Simmons is healthy. Last night, though, Brown could have (and should have) rode with Fultz a little longer.
He had his best night so far: 6/9 shooting, 13 points, six rebounds, and an assist. Fultz looked as confident as he has looked in a LONG TIME. For the first time, we saw no hesitation on a three point shot attempt where Fultz was all alone. (You have to appreciate him leaving the arm up, afterwards.)
He looked good. He finally looked good and really sure of himself, yet, Fultz saw just two minutes of the fourth quarter and none of the overtime period. He’s had steady improvement since the first game of the season, and the stats (particularly his ORtg) back that up:
- 10/16 @ Boston - ORtg 75
- 10/18 v. Chicago - 101
- 10/20 v. Orlando - 115
- Last night @ Detroit - 130
Fultz also had his best shooting night as a pro (72% TS). McConnell wasn’t particularly bad (-3 in plus/minus) in those 32 minutes, but my question is: what is this season supposed to be?
Are the Sixers more concerned with winning games or are they more concerned with developing Fultz to where he wants to be -- and more importantly where the Sixers need him to be?
You can’t have it both ways.
Right now, Fultz is Scott Howard, but sooner or later, everyone wants him to become Teen Wolf on the basketball court. With Simmons out last night and extra minutes to spread around, an opportunity for growth could have been squandered.
At the time of this post, there’s been no news of if Simmons will play tonight in Milwaukee. If he doesn’t, will Fultz get more of a shot? Who knows except Brown and some other higher power?
He should, though.
I’ve said this even before the season started. As constructed -- even with Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, and a healthy Zhaire Smith (which will be fun to see how he’s handled, by the way) -- the Sixers may not be good enough to beat Boston.
If the teams met in the playoffs again, it would be hard to talk me out of a “Celtics in 6” pick with this roster. Boston is too deep, and for whatever reason, they hit EVERY SHOT when they play the Sixers. (Don’t get me started on Marcus Smart three pointers.)
That being said, why not just kick the tires on the kid? Play him 28-32 minutes. Let him get in his strides and take his licks. This sounds horrible, but throw the kid in the pool. Last night, Fultz was at least staying afloat offensively. I’m not saying don’t have a lifeguard on duty, but I am saying let Fultz at least try to get his Michael Phelps on a little.
This was a possibility going into this season. How would the team and coaches reintroduce Fultz to the world? What they’re doing isn’t totally incorrect, but it is very, very confusing. (That’s the G-rated way for me to say that.)