I think I traversed the entire length of the Markelle Fultz reactionary spectrum last night.
It started with the Wells Fargo Center crowd calling for him to “shoooooooot!” whenever he had the ball in his hands, which felt a little boorish to me. What kind of of rudimentary behavior is this?
But when the first shot went up, a mid-range jumper that didn’t even go in, I heard the roar from the stands and thought, “ah wow, they’re really pulling for this kid, this is special.”
It was confounding for me, because I’ve never really experienced anything like it. The entire thing had an overwhelmingly positive connotation to it, because the fans truly want Markelle to be successful and they want to help him through his struggles. It’s ridiculously antithetical to everything we’ve ever been taught about the Philadelphia fan base.
Still, the longer I sat there, I couldn’t shake the feeling of how elementary this whole exercise was. Here’s the #1 draft pick from a year ago, playing against a depleted Bulls team at home and getting cheers just for attempting a jump shot in a game.
How low has the bar been set?
Sure, Markelle finished 5-15 with 12 points, and he looked much more comfortable in the second half, but the game was put to bed at that point. More important to me is the fact that he started 2-9 and passed up a number of open looks, one a three-pointer where he decided to drive into a wall of three guys and dish the ball off instead:
You can’t pass up that shot.
It’s game two of the season, you’re playing at home against a bad team missing a bunch of players, and you don’t have anybody within ten feet of you:
You have to shoot that.
He did later, in the fourth quarter, and the crowd went rightfully nuts, but again, how low has the bar been set? It’s barely an inch off the floor.
It’s clear to me that Markelle’s most comfortable shot right now is that pull-up jumper at the foul line. He knocked down one of ’em against Boston and took a few more last night, actually five total in that area of the floor when I look at his shot chart.
I showed a clip yesterday of a really nice pick and roll action that they used against the Celtics to spring Fultz for an open jumper, and they tried it again last night to get him another open look that just didn’t go down:
See how they just shove Saric and Covington into the corner there?
Ben Simmons drops it to Fultz on the wing, and they disguise it as a UCLA cut that ends up being a pick and roll where Markelle can use two screens to curl to the foul line and fire away. Cam Payne goes underneath the Embiid screen and Fultz lets fly.
It’s a really nice design, and they ARE calling plays to get him open looks. He looks so much more comfortable in pick and rolls (especially with Simmons screening) and when he’s running two-man actions with Joel Embiid. The first shot he knocked down last night was just a little elbow screen from Joel, which allowed Markelle to dribble to the foul line for that pull-up.
Brett Brown alluded to that in his post game comments:
“He ended up taking the most shots out of anybody on our team. Which, in itself, is to me, a statement. I wasn’t even really aware he was taking that many shots to lead our team in field goals attempted. But I say that as a complete positive. I felt when he was shooting the ball, they kept going under middle pick and rolls. He shot it to mean it, he didn’t look afraid of anything. He missed the shots, but they looked good, and I think in general, we played him quite a bit of minutes, he took the most shots out of anybody on the team, I thought his defense was very good. It’s a big night for that young man.”
Fair, and very accurate in that observation that Chicago was playing under the screens, which opened up the foul line for Markelle.
Overall, this is what his chart looked like last night:
It’s not 5-15, it’s really 5-14, because he had a half-court heave at the end of a quarter that really shouldn’t count towards his shooting percentage. I’d really look at it as though he had a 35.7% shooting night, which isn’t amazing, but the context is more accurate.
Another thing worth noting is that Markelle did play a good amount of minutes as the primary ball handler, at least 6-7 from the end of the first quarter into the second quarter, and also a decent chunk of the third quarter and garbage time minutes. He does seem to be more assertive with the ball in his hands because, well, he has to be. Put me in the group of people that likes Markelle as a ball handler in this lineup:
That’s the lineup that started the season last year. You don’t have Dario Saric’s three-point shooting and gritty rebounding, but the spacing was much better when they used this group last night.
One play that really stood out to me was this one, where they got Ben at the rim for an easy dunk:
They sort of flex Covington across the top of that horns set, and instead of Simmons screening for Redick to get him a jump shot, Redick actually backscreens for Simmons, Chicago blows the switch, and you get the easy flush.
Those are great ways to get Simmons and Fultz to complement each other when they share the floor, because Markelle can be the primary ball handler and Ben can use his size to earn those mismatches in the paint and punish opponents.
As far as quotes from Markelle, he didn’t have anything groundbreaking to say after the game. But he certainly didn’t shy away from media questions and I get the sense that he’s much more comfortable in scrum settings.
Sarah Todd from the Inquirer asked Markelle what’s going through his mind when he sees defenders sag off of him and give him space:
“It doesn’t bother me. I know what I’m capable of. Sometimes it’s actually hard to guard somebody coming full speed at you when you’re that far back. So sometimes I look at it like that, sometimes I look for a three, it all depends. If we’re running a play I’m looking for my teammates. It all depends. I’m a basketball player, I just play basketball.”
He’s not wrong; you see Ben Simmons drive right at sagging defenders and get to the rim anyway, and of course Markelle is going to run a called play instead of heaving the ball up from anywhere, but when you get the open look, take it. Shooters shoot in the NBA, and Fultz is not a 6’10” freak athlete point guard like Simmons.
“I’m never afraid to take shots. I worked hard this summer. Tonight. I didn’t make a lot of shots, but I am going to keep shooting. If I see an open shot, then I’m going to shoot it; that’s what I worked for. Tonight didn’t fall, but eventually, it will. I’m going to keep working, and I have great teammates so if I see my teammates, I’m going to find them.”
Overall, the fact that he took 14 shots is a huge positive takeaway. Moving forward, you need to see assertiveness early and you need to see that happen in road games and against tougher opponents.
Rotation, minutes, and Landry Shamet
JJ Redick, Amir Johnson, and T.J. McConnell all came off the bench at 7:00 in the first. Fultz came back in with 3:03 in the quarter and finished with 32 overall. T.J. only played about five minutes as the Sixers were able to take over in the second half and get Markelle a lot of meaningful time while holding a 15 and 20 point lead.
Landry Shamet played 29 minutes in his second NBA game and looked great out there, putting up 12 points on 4-7 shooting, all seven attempts coming from three. He knocked down his first pro shot on a cross-court catch and shoot, and I really just love the way he moves without the ball. I really do think he can learn a lot from JJ Redick in becoming a solid shooting guard in this league, and I feel like Shamet’s skill set is a perfect fit for this offense and the way the Sixers like to use motion and get into a rhythm on offense.
Said Brett Brown of Shamet:
“He can play. You look at him and he’s 4-7 from the three point line. When we scouted him, he had the ball a lot, but we knew, or we felt, like he could just play. I can play him off the ball easily because he moves. He can play. He’s a basketball player. And I think what we’ve seen is confirming some of our opinions on him, and as we all know, there’s nothing like opportunity. Because of some different situations, he’s received that. He sure has grabbed it by the throat and been very, very impressive for a rookie.”
If you can come off the bench, play that type of defense on the wing, then hit a transition three going the other way, you’re going to earn a lot of minutes on a Brett Brown-coached team.
It’s nice to see someone come in and fire away, especially considering the fact that the Sixers really struggled to get anything from the bench through the early part of last season.
- Meek Mill rang the bell. Whatever. I’ve been over Meek for months now.
- I didn’t even mention Embiid’s 30 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 blocks. He only turned the ball over twice.
- Ben Simmons had a really nice night defensively and can be a top-five defender in the league. He moves his feet with such efficiency in 1v1 matchups.
- the foul on the big Embiid block in the second quarter was not a foul
- Ron Brooks always does a fantastic job with the national anthem
- the new sound system at the Center is good, felt like there was more “clarity” to the stuff coming out of the speakers
- Ryan Arcidiacono got a nice shout from the fans
- Amir Johnson might not have a lot left in the tank. I wonder if backup big is going to be an issue for the Sixers this year.