Brett Brown brought Markelle Fultz off the bench to begin the second half of the Sixers’ second preseason game against the Dallas Mavericks. In the context of the game, it wasn’t really a surprise, as Fultz had accrued four personal fouls in the first half. But Brown says the decision to start JJ Redick in place of Fultz in the second half had nothing to do with Fultz’ foul trouble. Via ESPN’s Tim MacMahon:
“It didn’t have anything to do with Markelle being in foul trouble,” Brown said. “Part of my responsibility is to be able to put these guys in environments with different combinations and try to figure that out as quickly as I’m able. I believe that Markelle is at his best with the ball, and so when you watch how I substitute and determine patterns, when you bring him off the bench in the second half you’re able to get him like four or five more minutes as a point guard. I believe it’s something that we’ll continue to look at. Again, it was done for that reason.”
Evaluating Fultz’ preseason requires two different mindsets. On one hand, what we’ve seen out of Fultz so far is encouraging. Markelle has appeared more confident and comfortable in an NBA environment than he did last season. On the other hand, Fultz’ performance is still disappointing when compared to what the Sixers need of him: a consistent three-level, off-the-dribble scorer that can stretch the floor next to Ben Simmons. Brett Brown would have you believe he’s in the “encouraged” camp when it comes to his 2nd-year guard. While the coach is considering starting Redick in place of Fultz in second halves, Brown confirmed that he’s sticking with Fultz in the starting lineup. He went on to praise Fultz’ showing in the 2018 preseason:
“It’s really what I expected,” Brown said of the progress he saw from Fultz in the preseason. “He’s 20 years old, it’s the NBA. You know, you’re going to see ups and downs. I think the best thing for me is the fact that he’s a willing defender. He lets us coach him. I think he’s shown improvement and tremendous heart in picking up other ball carriers, other point guards. And I think that we’re all going to have to step back and be realistic/patient with a 20-year-old’s growth.”
The Fultz vs. Redick debate in regards to the starting lineup has been a point of contention amongst Sixers fans. Redick fits in so smoothly next to Ben Simmons with Redick’s elite catch-and-shoot profile, and the 5-man unit’s (Simmons/Redick/Covington/Saric/Embiid) statistics speak for themselves (+21.4 net rating over 600+ minutes). But the Sixers need to know sooner rather than later how effective Fultz and Simmons can be on the court together. While Fultz may not fit perfectly now, he does need time to adjust and find himself. It comes down to a confliction of timelines: maximizing wins now versus ironing out the core.
Brett Brown may attempt to straddle between the pro-Fultz and pro-Redick factions by giving Redick the second half nod, which could be okay for now. But this is an early pivot from the rotation Brown envisioned. Fine, that’s what preseason is for. But it makes you wonder what Brown has really taken away from Fultz’ preseason.