Let’s start with last night’s stupid “controversy.”
Seems like some people were upset that the big bad media decided to ask Markelle Fultz about his shoulder after the game. If you didn’t see the video, the rookie was asked three times about it, responding first with a generic non-answer before meeting a pair of follow-up questions with total silence. He did not directly address the injury that kept him out of the lineup since early October.
And look, if that’s how he wants to go about it, that’s fine. I don’t blame him. After all he’s been through, I’d probably want to put that behind me, too.
But we asked the questions, first Sarah Todd of the Inquirer, then myself, then Sarah again with the second follow, simply because it’s been the biggest topic of the entire season and we haven’t heard his side of the story.
Other reporters asked him plenty of questions about his return to the court and how it felt to be back out there. I didn’t think it was inappropriate, given the positive atmosphere surrounding his return and a big win, to broach the subject of his injury.
Because we’ve had fans up our butt for four months asking what happened to Markelle’s shoulder and demanding 10 second video clips of him shooting five-footers and foul shots at practice. There have been zero answers from the front office. Bryan Colangelo claims he doesn’t know how the injury happened. Fultz was not made available to the media during that entire stretch.
So when the opportunity to ask Markelle about it finally comes, months later, people are now apparently upset that we would bring it up. “It doesn’t matter now!”
It doesn’t matter?
You’ve been bullshitted for four straight months and kept in the dark, and now you don’t care? You don’t want to know what actually happened?
Don’t give me this crap: “leave the kid alone! he played well!” Of course he did! And we will give him all of the credit in the world for that. It’s a wonderful story and it will be told in full on this website and others for the rest of the season.
But don’t get all soft because the media is asking uncomfortable questions. That’s the whole point. Do you want us to ask these things or not? You can’t have it both ways. Either you want us to dig for answers or leave the kid alone. Should we just “rah rah” our way to playoffs with fanboy recaps stuffed with slam dunks and behind the back passes? Or should we at least act the part and try to do our jobs? You tell me.
I know it’s trendy to hate the media in 2018, but you can’t be a hypocrite. You can’t say, “I want answers,” only to turn around and say, “actually now I don’t care.” It’s not our job to be fans of the team or celebrate Markelle’s return or worry about his psyche (though we try to be sensitive to the fact that he’s a 19 year old kid). With even the slightest bit of media coaching, he could have simply said, “you know what, respectfully, that happened awhile ago and I’d like to move beyond it, I’m just happy to be out there again with my teammates.”
That’s it. No harm done, no issues raised. He’s simply being given the opportunity to tell his side of a complicated and convoluted story, and he decided not to address it.
And if there never was any injury in the first place, that’s fine. People can read between the lines. There’s nothing wrong with asking the question and giving him the opportunity to address it how he chooses. That’s what happened last night, right?
Here’s the locker room video:
WATCH: Markelle Fultz's first time addressing the media since October following his return to play.
— Sarah Todd (@NBASarah) March 27, 2018
Anyway, the Sixers beat the brakes off the Nuggets in the second half last en route to a 7th straight win.
Markelle actually playing basketball
He came in towards the end of the first half and played with this grouping:
- Fultz – 1
- Redick – 2
- Covington – 3
- Ilyasova – 4
- Embiid – 5
Some good and some bad, but I really liked how assertive he was, which was sort of unavoidable as a point guard anyway. He turned it over on his first possession before getting whistled for a foul while fighting through a screen, but then blew by a defender for an uncontested layup:
After that he tried a spin move against Mason Plumlee and was stopped in his tracks, but held his footing smartly and dished the ball out to the perimeter for his first assist. On the defensive end, he got a strip on Plumlee that saw the ball bounce out of play and turn possession over to the Sixers.
Markelle did have his shot blocked twice in his first shift, then put up an airball over Plumlee that I originally thought might have been tipped at the release point:
Any contact there? Not sure, think he just forced up a tough shot against a taller player.
A good first shift though, for sure. The crowd was excellent, really got behind him, welcomed him to the game, and started cheering every time he touched the ball. For a fan base that supposedly throws batteries and beer cans and beats up people from North Dakota, they really created one hell of an atmosphere last night. You probably won’t hear about that on First Take this morning, but whatever.
Fultz came back in at the three minute mark in the third quarter with the Sixers up three.
This time he played with the following group:
- Fultz – 1
- Belinelli – 2
- Covington – 3
- Ilyasova – 4
- Saric – stretch 5
Again, front-foot stuff from Markelle, who seemed to run the offense pretty well at the point. He tried the spin move again and got to the basket this time, but his shot rimmed out. He followed that with a tough drive to the rack and got a tight-angle shot to fall, then somehow rolled a shot off the top of the backboard that Ersan Ilyasova was able to put back for a bucket.
I really liked the fact that he tried to get to the rim and make things happen.
The only blemish I saw was the final possession of the third quarter, when he looked like he had a drive opportunity or could have pulled up for a jumper but didn’t take it, dishing it late instead and resulting in a shot clock violation:
That’s alright, he just needs to decide earlier what he’s going to do there.
He checked out with 6 points, 6 assists, and 2 rebounds in 11:42.
I don’t think Brett Brown initially planned to bring Fultz back in, but the fans started chanting for it in the fourth quarter and got it.
He came in and hit a super confident 14-footer:
HESI PULL UP JIMBO FROM FULTZ pic.twitter.com/oOt5dzJdJM
— drew (@Dcorrigan50) March 27, 2018
Looks smooth to me, no hitch or anything. Feels like it was ages ago that people were going crazy over the practice videos, so to see him hit that in a game over Plumlee is something else.
Fultz hit a 20-footer shortly after that, also a smooth stroke.
He played 14 minutes, going for 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 8 assists while shooting the ball at a 5 for 13 (38.4%) clip:
If there’s any takeaway from last night, it’s that he really wasn’t lacking for confidence. He hunted for his shot, got teammates involved, and didn’t look to shy away from anything or ease his way back into form. Yea, he looked a bit out of control at times and had his shot blocked several times, but I think you’d rather see him drive and get stuffed rather than pass the ball out of a fear to shoot. That wasn’t the case at all. He looked really assertive out there and that was great to see. He can get to his spots and create off the dribble, which is something the Sixers have sorely lacked this year.
Here’s the transcript of what Markelle did say after the game, per Sixers PR:
On the last few months…
I just had a lot of teammates, front office staff, and coaches who really supported me through these tough times. I just worked every day, that’s all it was.
On the injury itself…
I just worked hard every day, coaches worked hard every day and it all went well.
On the ovation from the crowd…
It was cool, at first I thought they were saying ‘Nick Foles,’ but then I realized it and it was pretty sweet. These fans are great, and I love them.
Was tonight close to what you expected it to be?
It went exactly like I planned. I was hoping we got the win, and that’s how I had it.
On his game tonight…
I was just trying to do the little things to help my team win. I wasn’t looking for any stats, I was just looking to play defense, and then on the offensive end just stick to the game plan.
Why was today the day you were ready to play?
I just woke up and today was that day, I felt good and like I said it was a long journey to get here, and it felt good. The coaching staff and front office stuck with me, so it all felt good.
What is your personal criteria to be able to play?
I think today we did really well at everything, offensively, defensively, so it went well.
Did Brett Brown’s comments on Saturday affect you playing tonight?
Not at all really. They believed in me, they told me to do what I had to do, and they supported me. That’s all I needed.
On battling confidence issues…
I love this game to death, and I know this stuff happens. They supported me, and these guys really helped me.
When did you think you would come back this season?
I took it day-by-day. That’s just how it went.
On your night being more than you expected…
I think it all worked out, it’s a learning process for me. It felt good to get out there and get a win, and push my team toward the playoffs.
On returning prior to the playoffs…
Just to work hard and feel comfortable. I just had to be comfortable in myself. It happens.
Will you be ready for the playoffs?
Every game. I will try to win each and every game.
How would you rate your performance?
It doesn’t matter. I really don’t know, I was just happy to be back out on the floor.
On the first time on the floor compared to the second time…
I got even more comfortable the second time. I started getting my groove back.
Why did you want to come back with so few games left?
I love these guys, they are my guys. But like I said, I just wanted to help them, they support me, the coaching staff supported me, and I’m just trying to be the best teammate.
What was it like to read or hear about your shooting being dissected?
I never looked at it really. That’s what the media’s job is, to do what they have to do to get paid. I didn’t really look at it. I stayed with my teammates, and we stayed together.