Last Friday, we ran the Markelle Fultz roundtable, which you can read here. There were quite a few participants, and a whole lot of questions and answers, and so we split it into two parts. The following 5 questions are part two of the Markelle Fultz roundtable.
Randy Cohen: If he won’t make the Sixers better in the playoffs, is there a decent argument he should play anyway?
Tyler Monahan: If the Sixers don’t believe he can really help them in the playoffs then there is no reason to put him in the game.
Roy Burton: I don’t agree with the “logic” that having an extra rotation player available for the postseason will make the Sixers worse off. But either way, all minutes are good minutes, and playoff minutes are even better. Knock that rust off, young fella.
Andy Driscoll: He should absolutely play. The Sixers are not going to win an NBA championship this season. The Sixers are not going to make the NBA finals this season. The goal in all of this is to build for a championship. Getting NBA experience, and so much more importantly NBA playoff experience for Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz is the overriding priority number 1 for this season. If Markelle is healthy and he wants to play- he should play.
Adio Royster: That being said (he won’t make the Sixers better in the playoffs), I wouldn’t play him.
Kevin Rice: While I want to say that the playoffs would help Fultz make note of what he needs to learn for next season, I’m going to take the conservative approach and say it’d be better for him to be a visual learner for the playoffs. Him coming back would be a HUGE distraction for the team, and it would add to the pressure of a team going in to the playoffs for the first time. There are definitely pros of bringing him back for the playoffs, but my heart says no.
Sean O’Connor: It depends on the team’s projected playoff outcome. If the Sixers believe they can go far in the playoffs (and I honestly think they do think that, and I’d even agree with that), and you think bringing Fultz back would hurt those chances, then it’s probably not worth it. That said, T.J. McConnell has struggled - 45% shooting, including 2-14 from three and 4 total FT attempts - since the all-star break and effectively losing half of his bench minutes per game to Marco Belinelli. So Fultz doesn’t have to play especially well for me to go with him, provided good health.
RC: What about the other direction -- is there a case that Markelle would help us this year, but that we need to sit him anyway to avoid risks to his self-confidence?
TM: Let’s put it quite simply, this is a lost year for Markelle Fultz. No other top prospect drafted has ever had this problem, it’s time to face that and move on to next year. It’s not uncommon that Sixers rookies have missed their first season.
RB: This team has done a pretty good job of keeping injured players engaged and involved with the team, so this shouldn’t be a huge issue. He’ll miss some defensive assignments every now and then, but I think he’ll put more on the table than he takes off.
AD: I’d really leave it up to him. If he says he’s ready to go, play him.
Eric Sidewater: I do not believe his issues will be exacerbated by poor games. If they are, then I don’t think shielding him from the NBA will be an effective antidote. It will be a band-aid that has to come off — a temporary solution to a systemic problem. I’m nearly positive he’s well-versed with the playbook by now.
AR: This is precisely what I worry about playing Markelle in the middle of a playoff run. If he goes out and throws bricks like quarry workers, then we’re back to square one with his confidence. That’s what I believe has been the issue. Physically, I think Markelle is fine, but his shooter’s mentality could still need work. I’m not Markelle, so I can only go with what my mind would be. If my confidence was rocked and I was put into a high pressure situation where I failed, that would only make it worse for me. That’s me, though. I can’t speak for Markelle on the situation in his head.
KR: I don’t think it’s a good idea to add him in the lineup this late in the season. It would be unfair to him to get inserted in to the lineup in the heat of a battle for home court advantage and immediately have the pressure of “ok, you’re Markelle Fultz, we need you to be great right now.” Let him watch, let him learn what the playoffs are like so he knows what he needs to do in the summer to elevate us next season. It seemed to work pretty dang well with Simmons.
SO: I think it’s reckless to speculate that a bad game would spur a self-confidence issue, since we (still) don’t know the root cause or extent of his condition with any certainty. Since Markelle has practiced and knows the playbook, it’s not too late to integrate him if the team deems him ready.
RC: If you think Markelle should play, when should his first start be? As soon as possible, or as soon as he passes a certain benchmark, or when?
TM: Game one of the 2018-19 season, Markelle Fultz will be a starting guard for the Philadelphia 76ers and will play at a high level.
RB: If he can go, he should get out there ASAP - no real sense in waiting.
AD: I think there are two competing ideas: the first is you want to get him his first game back against a bad team preferably at home. The second is, you kind of need to get him in there soon so he can get enough games under his belt to feel comfortable for the playoffs. Ideally, I think this Thursday against the Magic is a great game for him to get back in the swing of things, but I think it’s unlikely that the team will reinsert him into the lineup on the road in the second night of a back to back. After that comes matchups against the Nuggets and T-Wolves, two teams battling tooth and nail for a playoff spot. That leaves next Wednesday at home against the reeling Knicks- I think this is when he’ll play. That gives him 9 games to play before the playoffs, not necessarily ideal, but not entirely terrible either.
ES: I see no risk in giving him five-minute stretches here and there starting now -- the team has implied that the ball is now in Fultz’s court (pun intended).
AR: Is Markelle playing Summer League this summer? Yes? Well, then (Summer League). No? Opening night of the 2018-2019 season.
KR: Opening night, next season.
SO: He should be coming off the bench if he does play. The Sixers’ starting lineup has been a revelation in his absence, and he fits best right now as a potential scoring guard off the bench. That said, he should play when there’s no questions about his shooting motion or his ability to consistently repeat it.
RC: What do you think of Markelle’s future now, given all we know?
TM: Until proven otherwise, I believe this season was a speed bump on the road to a very productive career for Markelle Fultz. He needs to go out there and prove he can play against high level talent, but Fultz is showing improvement, so we might as well be optimistic about the situation.
RB: I think he’ll be just fine. Part of that belief is my base optimism, and part of it comes from the recent history of Sixers’ rookies missing huge portions of their first year and still turning out OK.
AD: I’m still fully of the opinion that Markelle Fultz will be a multi-time all star and I have yet to waiver from that stance. I still see him as a weird James Harden-Dwyane Wade hybrid, and once his shot’s back I see no reason why he won’t reach an incredibly lofty level of play.
ES: Based on his film, pedigree, career statistics, intangibles, and measurements -- I would project him as a future All-Star. I have my doubts that he will develop into an All-NBA type player, but evaluating objectively, this would not be far-fetched possibility either. He might not hit his prime for 8 years, think about that!
AR: Markelle’s player comparison has always been James Harden. That’s the highest of a really high ceiling. He can definitely be that if he’s fully recovered (physically and mentally). Personally, I like to temper my expectations. My comp for Markelle has always been an alum of the University of Washington: Brandon Roy. Back in September, Markelle posted on social media that he’s 210 lbs. If that’s real, then he’s only two inches shorter than Roy with the same body type. Before Roy’s career was cut short by a degenerative knee condition, he was a three-time All-Star and the face of a young Portland team that went 54-28 in Roy’s best season. Markelle could grow to be a better three point shooter than Roy, but both are very good at creating his own shot, getting to the rim and hitting the mid-range.
KR: Let’s get crazy. James Harden. It’s more of the way that Fultz moves and finishes that reminds me of Harden. The clunky yet smooth strides and dribbles that each take when they drive just reminds me of watching Harden. I don’t know if he’ll ever reach the complete and utter dominance that James Harden has reached, especially this season. But we could get a 2015 version of Harden paired along LeBron Jr and the best big man of all time.
SO: If his shot matched what it had been prior to September, there is nothing to suggest that his trajectory as a player would change from our pre-draft evaluations. If he doesn’t, Fultz has the size and handles to make a go of trying to be a defensive, play-making point guard, but he’s not as athletic or as strong a passer as some of the other guards who have made a career despite a shooting deficiency.
RC: What do you think is the probability Fultz will play this season? What is the probability that two years from today, the events of the past six months will be just a funny “hey remember that weird thing that happened” story as opposed to a “I can’t believe we got so unlucky as to have Markelle derailed by what happened” story?
TM: From what the Sixers front office has shown in the past, I believe the chances Fultz plays this year are at about 10%. There is just too much that could go wrong by throwing him in a playoff scenario after what he’s been through. I do believe this will be a funny story when we look back at it, but the Sixers need to ensure that’s what it becomes by not setting him up for failure.
RB: I think it’s close to zero at this point. During our last roundtable, I said that he’d be back in mid-March, but with basically three weeks left, I don’t feel like the Sixers will try to work him back into the mix at this point (although I hope they would/will).
AD: I feel like I’ve been a blind optimist of sorts throughout this entire ordeal, but I’m still 90% certain that Markelle will play this season. I’m just too encouraged by the recent rejuvenation of his jumper, and more importantly I think that Fultz’ camp is incredibly eager to put this story to rest before the offseason. I will also go all in, and say that I am 100% confident that two years from now we will look back on this 6 month saga and laugh about how our All Star guard overcame the weirdest scare in recent NBA history. TTP.
ES: I’d say somewhere around 20% chance he will play this season. For the “oh remember that silly thing” scenario, I’d say in the ballpark of 90% -- 1 in 10 chance he “gets derailed.”
AR: If I had to put a percentage on Fultz playing this season, the highest I’d go is maybe 5%. In my mind, the cons (relapse in fractured confidence) outweigh the pros (making the Eastern Conference Finals). Two years from now when we’re contemplating how to dress for the 2020 Sixers Championship parade, this will be a funny anecdote to a very weird (yet fun) ride.
KR: I doubt he’ll play this season. We still haven’t seen him practicing with the team on a daily basis and it would be problematic to throw him in to the lineup and figure out where he belongs just as the Sixers battle for home court advantage this late in the season.
SO: Odds are low that he plays this year. The Sixers are focused on playoffs first, and if integrating Fultz hurts that push, then it makes life more difficult for everyone.