The 76ers, in March, are currently one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference and in the entire NBA. It’s been a long, long time since people around the league and Sixers fan have been able to say that. Looking poised for a playoff run, the Sixers have been gelling with the combination of young talent and an added veteran presence. It’s been a marvel to see the automatic connection that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have developed since the day they stepped on the court together.
One player who did not seem to gel from the start was #1 overall pick, Markelle Fultz. It’s been an anomaly to see what has happened to him after he gave Sixers fans a show during his play at the Summer League. From him beginning the season very slow, to eventually blaming it on a ‘shoulder’ injury, to changing his shot as a whole. Oh yeah, not to mention this all was happening during a time the Sixers were playing their worst basketball of the season.
Fast forward from early December to now, it’s been a complete 180 for both the team and Markelle. Videos have been circulating of a player that looks like the old Markelle Fultz. The anticipation is building for Sixers fans as the return looks near.
Brett Brown spoke to reporters yesterday and said that Markelle is ‘quite close’ to a return to the court.
“I think he is quite close,” Brown said Fultz, who has declined to speak to reporters. “I think if we’d all watch the video we’d all probably agree with that.”
“It’s just something that when Markelle Fultz feels like he can go – he really feels good about himself and his health, the shoulder, everything and the medical people support that — he knows that he has a coaching staff and a team that will welcome him in when he says go,” Brown said. “He also understands the season is around the corner in terms of the end of the regular season. That’s where it’s at.”
Just a day later, Brett Brown and the Sixers announced that Fultz will be active to play against the Denver Nuggets. So is this return, at this point of the season, the best thing for the Sixers or Fultz himself? Fellow Basketball Society writer Alex Fischbein and I dissect what Markelle Fultz could bring to the Sixers.
Added Depth Off The Bench
The Sixers bench production this season has been one of the best bench improvements in the NBA, and it’s not even as deep as one would think. They were really struggling with a lack of bench production before they added Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli as the bench rotation was tough for Brett Brown to figure out. Amir Johnson was struggling at times, while Richaun Holmes continued to shine. Fast forward two months, and the Sixers rotation features a defensive presence from Amir Johnson they hadn’t seen all season, and an added three-point threat and stretch four with Belinelli and Ilyasova.
An addition of a healthy Markelle Fultz could open up the bench’s outside threat even further. Right now, there isn’t a dual threat coming off the bench that can play the type of basketball that we know Fultz can play. TJ McConnell has shown the ability to be able to play with anyone and putting Markelle Fultz alongside screams spacing. Defenders focused on Fultz leave more opportunity for clean looks for Belinelli and others. Fultz can play up-tempo and his game would fall right in line with what the Sixers want to do which is play fast and outshoot the opponent. Shooting an average of 33 three-point shots in the month of March, Fultz’s dual-threat ability would be an upgrade to Justin Anderson, who brings solid defense, but is too inconsistent on the offensive end.
Playoff Experience Is The Best Experience
Now, no matter how great this season has been for Sixers, they’re more than likely to meet a greater opponent, but we’ll see how that plays out. Point is, that it’s not about this season, but longterm. If the Sixers plan on winning championships, playoff experience will go a long way for the team as a whole. As a rookie? It will prove to be an even greater experience. The Sixers plan on making Markelle Fultz a big part of their future going forward and not only can his added talent help the Sixers this year, but for years to come. The ability to have a fan base behind you after the year that he has had would be a huge boost to his confidence. Yes, there will be critics and jitters, but for him to get that out of the way now would prove to be a good choice down the road. He has his teammates behind him and supporting him. Joel Embiid, J.J. Redick, and other teammates have defended him publicly. Getting him back for a playoff run brings hope and tangible things he can work on for the future of his career. The Process isn’t about just this year, and it’s just getting started.
(Section by Alex Fischbein)
Team Dynamic Changes Before Playoffs
One negative situation that comes to mind right away with a young team is the change to the team’s dynamic right before the playoffs. They key to this con is the “young” aspect. This team just started gelling and firing on all cylinders not too long ago. Lineups were changed around since the beginning of the season, and the bench has been utilized in specific ways according to matchups. If you don’t remember, to start the season, the Sixers had a very tough schedule. Playoff teams tested this young squad, and they weren’t winning many of those games. Turnovers were, and still are, the culprit of many losses which proved that their lack of experience played a factor.
Then the front office even added some pieces to the equation with Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli while adding and removing other pieces like Trevor Booker. Ilyasova and Belinelli were easy to slot into the lineup because they’re the kind of shooters that don’t need the ball in their hands much. Markelle Fultz, on the other hand, is at his best when he has control of the ball and can attack off of the dribble. This means the ball won’t be in Ben Simmons’ nor TJ McConnell’s hands as often. They figured out how to win with those two as the primary ballhandlers though, so the addition of Fultz could take time for these two to adapt, as well as the rest of the team.
Further Damage to Confidence
Sure, this negative is even more of a “what if” than the last one was, but it still needs to be presented. Let’s say Fultz goes out on the court for his first game and puts up one of the worst games our eyes have ever seen. Does that mean he retracts back into his own mind again or will he just shrug it off as a bad performance and look forward to the next one? Due to how long this “healing” process has been, no one can really guess what his mindset is like. Many speculated that he had the “yips” while others believed that his shoulder was still hurting in some way or another. For the sake of Fultz, and Philadelphia fans, we hope that he can show the type of killer mindset we’ve seen from him on the court.