The Sixers have been the NBA’s surprise darling. A team that was banking on many unknowns, it had many experts around the league calling the bluff of Las Vegas’ prediction of this team’s total wins at 40 games. With now 50 wins and counting, the darling of the NBA has now become a premier NBA Finals contender.
Two years removed from having a roster that included multiple ten-day contracts, the Sixers now have a roster built on some of the best young talents in the league, with a veteran presence that has been just as impactful as the youth. The veteran presence was not only an emphasis but veteran shooting was the main point of emphasis.
J.J. Redick has produced over twenty 20-point outings, which includes six of 25 points or more. Marco Belinelli has been a major impact knocking down a three in every single game for the Sixers except one since joining Philadelphia and producing 13 ppg off the bench. This added presence of consistent shooting has made the Sixers a scary opponent come playoff time.
When it comes to the Sixers young core, the impact almost can’t even compare. Ben Simmons stepped into his rookie campaign with his sights sets on respect from his peers around the league. Well, he has gotten more, and then some, averaging a triple-double over the Sixers’ last 14 games and has produced 12 triple-doubles on the season…as a rookie. That’s second to Oscar Robertson who produced 26 in his rookie campaign.
Joel Embiid has been the NBA’s social media star both on and off the court. On the court, he has shown his dominant ability on both ends. He’s 12th in the NBA in points per game, seventh in rebounding, in the running for the Defensive Player of the Year in the NBA and was granted a starting role on the 2018 Eastern Conference All-Star team.
All of this dominance overshadowed one of the craziest stories we have ever seen in the NBA, and that was the impact and ability of Markelle Fultz. With much scrutiny coming to his game after he was shut down indefinitely for an undisclosed shoulder injury, most of the criticism came to his jump shot. Philadelphia fans were torn how to take the Fultz news as the weeks went on because of the Sixers dominant success in 2018. Before Fultz returned to the lineup, the Sixers had only lost one game at home and held the best record in the Eastern Conference in 2018.
That is still the case since Markelle Fultz rejoined the team.
Markelle Fultz’s impacts have been in spurts coming off the bench filling in for Ben Simmons as the backup point guard, and even playing the two position with TJ McConnell or Ben Simmons running point guard, depending on the lineup.
When it comes to the playoffs, Markelle Fultz’s minutes off the bench could be rising, and taking an impact on other guards in the lineup. In achieving their 50th win of the season, Fultz played over 21 minutes while McConnell, who has been averaging over 22 minutes a game, just logged in 2:24 minutes – a career-low.
In an article from Sarah Todd of Philly.com, Coach Brown reiterated that Fultz’s improved play and increase in minutes could come at the expense of McConnell.
“I want to test Markelle Fultz,” coach Brett Brown said of his choice to hold off on playing McConnell. “And if I give him more minutes, it’s going to come at the expense of T.J. — and it did.”
With the two new guards in the rotation being Fultz and Marco Belinelli, McConnell has averaged just 13.4 minutes per game in the last 10 games. This is a good problem the Sixers to have at their current state. Much of their current success has been sustained by a consistent bench. Adding Markelle with only 14 or so games left in the season was a risky decision, but it has proved to pay off with the team looking the way they are, and Markelle looking surprisingly comfortable. When it comes to McConnell, his threat and ability are perfect for a 10 to 15-minute spurt, so this recent drop in minutes shouldn’t prove to be detrimental to the bench, but only produce a positive impact.
Markelle has proven himself as an upgrade to McConnell, and that should come as no surprise as the No. 1 pick. His swift slashing ability makes him a more significant offensive asset and you can’t help to think the nasty spin moves won’t be stopping anything soon.
Fultz puts Clarkson in the spin cycle!https://t.co/vSE9HY1sZB pic.twitter.com/JyMxN6ppsl
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) April 7, 2018
A major reason why the Sixers were blowing so many leads earlier in the season was due to the fact that their bench guards couldn’t create their own shots. With the added depth that a Markelle Fultz can bring, it gives head coach Brett Brown a new found confidence in the bench scoring. Fultz has the ability to distribute and score in the lane, but most important, he looks confident in his game. As a number one pick, coming off the bench can ruin confidence. But for Markelle, it’s the start of the greater picture, which is long-term playoff success. With what he has from where this team came from, to where they are now as a top-tier team in the East, he knows what heights his impact can bring this team to.
I mean just look at the confidence his teammates gave him after his first game back.
Markelle Fultz recaps his first game back. https://t.co/f5sC1fp9h8 pic.twitter.com/xiSjXwaANg
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) March 27, 2018
Overall, the Sixers have an opportunity to use Markelle as this team’s x-factor. He has the ability to score and distribute in the up-tempo offense the Sixers want to run. When Ben Simmons and J.J. Redick used to leave the floor, a sense of panic came onto many Philadelphia fans. They were waiting for the inevitable loss of the lead and waiting for what could go wrong with this team.
With a new found confidence, this Sixers team is just different heading into the playoffs. They have become one of the most efficient teams on each side of the floor. The impact of their depth will be a major deciding factor, and you can bet that Markelle Fultz will be at the forefront of that.