Eight games into a very up-and-down season, it may finally be time to admit the Sixers need to make some changes. Nothing drastic needs to be done yet. The team looks off, but not enough to push the panic button. The hope is that early on in the year, players are still trying to get their footing underneath them and figure out what does and doesn’t work, but that can’t be counted upon as a foregone conclusion. A lot of things could be altered to try and change the slow start, but the first choice should be to move Markelle Fultz into a full-time role off the bench.
The idea to start Fultz in the first half, but switch to JJ Redick to start the second, was a move that never really made a ton of sense. Still, Brett Brown seems adamant on making it work. But right now it’s not, and putting Fultz in a position to struggle shouldn’t be the first option after everything that has happened to the former first overall pick.
Fultz was drafted as a playmaking point guard. Playing him next to the franchise cornerstone ball handler in Ben Simmons is cheating him out of one of his biggest strengths. He isn’t the prototypical shooting guard, both because of the current flaws in his shot and the way opposing defenses defend him as a result, making the entire offense very predictable.
However, only eight games into the season, you can see improvements in Fultz’s game. He is getting more and more comfortable shooting anywhere on the floor, and when given a chance to run the offense, he often makes nice plays. By no stretch of the imagination is he a finished product, but he is slowly getting back to where he was when the Sixers drafted him. The best way to get Fultz back to that point is giving him minutes as the top dog, even if only with the second unit.
Lining up Fultz and Simmons together may work down the road, but right now, there is no need to force something that simply isn’t working. Having two guards that don’t rely on shooting the ball on the floor together only causes headaches. Split them up, and allow them to work on their games separately.
Entering tonight's game, Markelle Fultz is shooting 34.6% from the field and averaging 12.3 points and 4.3 assists per 100 possessions when he's on the court with Ben Simmons. When he's on the court without Simmons, he's shooting 45.2% with 19.0 pts, 9.2 assists per 100.— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) October 30, 2018
The Athletic’s Derek Bodner brings up some major differences in Fultz’s stats based on when he plays with and without Ben Simmons. Clearly, he is a much more effective player without the Aussie next to him. By allowing Fultz to run the second unit, you give him the chance to become the primary ball handler again and get better shots surrounded by shooters.
Moving Fultz to a bench role doesn’t mean playing him next to Simmons in the starting lineup shouldn’t be revisited, just not right now. The Sixers will need both of these guards to learn how to play next to each other in order to really make noise come playoff time, but right now Fultz is still growing as an NBA player and needs to be used in situations where he can succeed.