The Philadelphia 76ers have played five games and lost three of them. More than wins and losses, head coach Brett Brown has to make sure he doesn’t lose something else – Markelle Fultz’s confidence. Or Fultz for that matter.
The former No. 1 overall pick may be the most scrutinized player in the entire league. Is his shoulder healthy? Can he shoot? Can he hit threes? Will he survive the season mentally and emotionally? Should he be on the court in crunch time?
There are hundreds of other questions about the enigmatic 20-year-old point guard from the University of Washington.
Fultz’s story is well-documented on and off the court. Through five games, the Sixers are struggling and Fultz’s daily routine continues to become a soap opera.
Maybe the soap opera should be called, “As Fultz’s World Turns.”
The Sixers simply can’t deal with this story the entire season. They have to figure out what Fultz’s role will be in the short term and long term.
Since the Sixers were unable to secure a third-star player to go alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, it’s up to Fultz. LeBron James, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard are thriving elsewhere.
Fultz seems lost in the abyss. So far, he has played well in stretches. But Fultz needs the ball in his hands to ultimately be successful.
Simmons will get the ball primarily and T.J. McConnell will also play meaningful minutes. Much of Twitter exploded when McConnell has been on the court late in games instead of Fultz.
However, Brown doesn’t trust Fultz yet. That’s clear.
“I thought he did OK,” Brown told reporters in Detroit after the Pistons outlasted the Sixers 133-132 in overtime Tuesday night. “In fact, I thought at times he looked really good. We ended up going with T.J. for defensive reasons, we’ve learned that T.J. defensively has that NBA experience.”
When Fultz is on the court, other players don’t seem to be looking to pass him the ball. Players know who can shoot and who can’t in this league. The Sixers can say all the right things, but watching them is another story.
Fultz looks shaky playing off the ball. JJ Redick truly understands how to run baseline off a double screen to pop open. Fultz needs the ball in his hands. He looks awkward as a two guard. His shot does appear to be smoother, but it’s far from complete.
There are 77 games remaining and the Sixers are trying to build off a 52-win season and a playoff series win over the Miami Heat. They have to figure out what they have in Fultz. They must do it soon. This soap opera simply can’t linger. Yes, Fultz is a 20-year-old kid. But he was also a No. 1 overall pick and he’s expected to succeed quickly.
Fultz’s present and future are such a great unknown. Brown and general manager Elton Brand face quite a difficult dilemma. The Sixers need to move forward and eventually make a deep run in the playoffs. Whether it happens with Fultz is anyone’s best guess about now.