For some, though, Embiid’s dominant performance won’t be the main talking point. Instead, it might be the play of Markelle Fultz, who racked up 12 points (5-of-10 shooting, 0 of 0 from deep, 2 of 3 from the foul line), 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1 steal in 21 minutes of burn.
Against the Clippers, Fultz turned in arguably his best game of the young season. He made impact plays defensively and put pressure on ball-handlers at the point of attack, refusing to die on screens — a troubling habit he has developed during his brief NBA career.
A theme of this thread will be Fultz's defense. Thought he was a legit positive on that end.— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) November 2, 2018
Gets right into Milos Teodosic's airspace, shrugs off the screen and forces an errant pass. Then, he recognizes JJ Redick is out of position so he rotates over to stop the drive. pic.twitter.com/V8YzphN2Xm
Stellar sequence from Fultz (word to @KyleNeubeck for this one).— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) November 2, 2018
Contains Lou Williams on the drive, zips around the screen and uses his length to dissuade Williams from shooting. After a missed shot, he corrals the rebound and races past the defense for a layup. pic.twitter.com/gKaGimrrzn
On offense, he slithered his way to the tin, confidently blitzed the opposition in transition, and seemed to have a course of action each time he drove the lane. He largely avoided those awkward, pivot-happy sequences or errant kickouts to the perimeter, which tend to occur when a big man greets him in the paint.
Fultz has shown a willingness to attack the lane but he often ends up stuck with no course of action. Not in this clip, though.— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) November 2, 2018
He snags the rebound in traffic, gallops down the floor, charges right to the rim and draws a foul. pic.twitter.com/hLLZVnsZBD
At this point, it was evident Fultz was playing with lots of confidence.— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) November 2, 2018
Well-designed set to have Embiid blindside Gilgeous-Alexander with a screen. Fultz shows no fear attacking Boban and scores at the rim. pic.twitter.com/CD18oE9Vca
All of that activity bred a team-high plus-minus of plus-16, comfortably surpassing his previous 2018-19 best of plus-5. Plus-minus can be noisy and is generally reliant on the surrounding personnel in a given unit, but there’s no question Fultz overwhelmingly made positive contributions. In fact, nobody had a better on-off net rating split than Fultz on Thursday.
When he entered the game with 3:58 remaining in the third quarter, the Sixers were on the wrong end of a 29-8 run spanning back before the half (it’d eventually peak at 32-8) and trailed 81-80. When he checked out with 5:33 to go in the final period, Philadelphia was leading 106-103. Fultz was the primary catalyst of that four-point swing, scoring or assisting on 18 of the 26 points scored over that time.
While sprinkling in a couple of 3-pointers would have been the perfect cap to a promising game, this was a glimpse into the type of impact Fultz can make in the interim as he continues to refine his jumper.
Long term, Philadelphia still needs him to become a shooter for it to approach its ceiling. But for a team whose stated goal is to make the NBA Finals this year, it was an encouraging, win-now showing from a franchise cornerstone.
*For additional video breakdown of Fultz’s night, check out my Twitter Moment.*