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Markelle Fultz’ First 47 Minutes Back

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Taking a look at the rookie’s performance since returning to the rotation.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll leave it to the sighted to analyze the wetness level of Markelle’s jumper. I suggest a scale that goes from “Death Valley in midsummer” to “Mariana Trench” with “Caught in the monsoon without a raincoat” toward the high end and “Dishrag after cleaning up from a light snack” toward the lower. As for me, I’m all about the numbers. What have we got?

47 minutes

23 points

10 rebounds

15 assists

3 steals

1 block (unless they revised the stats to give him credit for the block he obviously deserved against Denver)

Um, wow! Now, obviously some of his play was in garbage time, and we don’t want to overrate garbage time stats. On the other hand, lots of guys play mostly in garbage time, and approximately none of them put up these sorts of numbers. And though I’m not going to try to figure out his non-garbage-time stats, it’s obvious from just recalling the games that he was similarly good when the outcome was still in doubt.

Anyway, let’s just pause to appreciate that in his first 47 minutes Fultz put up a 20-point triple-double with 4 stocks. Here, let me put it in per-36 form for those more comfortable with that:

17.6 points

7.7 rebounds

11.5 assists

3 stocks

Not quite a triple double, but not far off either. And any worry that Markelle’s assist totals in the second game were driven artificially up by the Sixers making tough shots on his dishes should be laid aside; against Atlanta he was credited with not a single assist, as his teammates missed shot after shot when receiving passes from Fultz.

Can he keep up this pace? Of course there’s no way to know. But this is getting to be a non-trivial sample. Many of you saw Zach Kram’s early-season piece in The Ringer making the (correct) argument that you can often tell from just a few games if a basketball player is going to be good, and the (incorrect) argument that this suggested Markelle Fultz was a bust.

Obviously you can’t judge based on a few dozen minutes of play if a guy is suffering an ailment and plays poorly, as Kram must know; he was just looking for clicks. But if a guy is still coming back from an issue and delivers Magic-Johnson-type numbers, the chance that he sucks and just got lucky for three games is not high. Bill James used to call this “signature significance.” A young pitcher had just put up a single late season game with, if I recall correctly, 18 strikeouts and zero walks. James did a piece in his Baseball Abstract arguing that such a game, even one game that remarkable, was a signature of a special player, and that someone who did that was almost sure to be excellent if he stayed healthy. The young pitcher being touted was named Roger Clemens, by the way.

Markelle’s games are not the basketball equivalent of 18 K and 0 BB, and I’m not declaring Fultz a Clemens-level talent just yet. But I do expect him to be a tremendous player, and what he’s done in these first three games back is strong confirmation of that view.

While we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning the overall stats we’ve gotten from our point guards the past three games. In the first two, Ben and Markelle cleanly split the 48 PG minutes, 34 and 14. Against Atlanta they again didn’t play together, but they had only 46 combined minutes as Brett Brown gave Markelle a rest late in the game. What kind of production did we receive from our two-headed, 48-minute mega-point?

Fultz and Simmons Box Scores Combined

Opponent Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
Opponent Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
DEN 48 17 17 19 0 1
NYK 48 16 13 17 1 2
ATL 46 23 13 11 3 2
AVG 47 18.7 14.3 15.7 1.3 1.7
/36 36 14.3 11.0 12 1.0 1.3

As Tom McGinnis likes to say, are you kidding me?! 14-11-12 and over 2 stocks, per 36?! On average, including the backup?! Nice!

I like to finish my articles with questions that may provoke discussion in comments, so here’s one: is it time to increase Markelle’s minutes?

I’ve been a huge TJ McConnell backer from go, but there’s no denying that recently his overall game has taken a significant dip. A week ago the debate was about whether Markelle should continue to sit, or whether we should get him some minutes after games are decided, on the hope of building up his confidence for next season. If you listen to a random sample of hoops podcasts, you’ll find very recent releases where folks say that, well, maybe you can give Markelle a few minutes in a blowout, but of course he can’t be used once the playoffs come.

And, I don’t know, perhaps there are still some folks who feel that way. But another view would be that we’ve really, really needed a guy like Markelle; indeed, we traded up to draft him because we knew we needed exactly such a player. And, arguably, we’ll need him more in the playoffs that we have in the regular season. And so, such an argument would go, let’s get him more minutes, because, first, he needs to adapt to the NBA game, it’s speed and physicality, etc. And second, he needs to learn to play with different lineups and, in particular, to play with Ben, because if they can’t play together then Fultz is going to be limited to about 10 minutes a night in the playoffs.

On the other hand, wins now are important for seeding, and there’s legitimate fear that lineups featuring Markelle and Ben have too little shooting, and that seems especially problematic in the absence of Joel embiid; a Ben-Markelle-Amir lineup may REALLY lack shooting! How shall we resolve this conundrum? My own view is, play Markelle more minutes each night, and when he’s out there with Ben, tell him to shoot a lot and let’s see what happens!

Also, I’d experiment with a Ben-Markelle-Cov-Dario-Ersan lineup as that mitigates the floor-spreading concern. But maybe that’s crazy, let me know in comments what you all think.