Is Markelle Fultz the key to a win in Detroit tonight?

He’ll be your starting ball handler if Ben Simmons can’t go.

Simmons is listed as questionable with lower back tightness, the same issue that forced him from Saturday night’s win after just eight minutes.

You’re looking a starting lineup of Fultz, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and Joel Embiid if Simmons is forced to sit this one out, and Fultz said Monday he’d approach the game like any other.

“I don’t think anything really changes other than me at the one, running the offense and trying to run this team,” he said. “But my mindset is still the same going into the game, you know? Playing hard and doing what I have to do to help this team win.”

It’s clear that Fultz has looked more effective with the ball in his hands. That dates back to last spring when he ran point guard on the Sixers’ second unit after making an unannounced late return to the lineup.

He was asked whether starting the game as the primary ball handler might result in him finding an early rhythm, as opposed to working off the ball with Simmons running point.

“Definitely, I’ll have the ball in my hands a little bit more,” he said. “But I think it’s a chance to get to run the team and be a playmaker like I am, just starting off with it.”

Head coach Brett Brown had spoken recently about getting Fultz getting go to “downhill” and attack defenders and the rim, which is something he might be able to do more of in a starting point guard role.

“I think that’s one of the advantages I have, just being able to attack people in transition with a full head of steam,” Fultz said. “Not only for me to create a shot for myself, but I can get my teammates open when I draw defenders. It’s definitely one of the things I want to focus on going into the next couple of games, just attacking downhill when I catch a rebound or get an outlet, and being aggressive.”

Going through Markelle’s clips and shot charts through the first three games, you can see he’s had the most success hitting that pull-up jumper from the foul line.

These kinds of sequences, where he comes off an under-played screen and finds himself at the stripe, have looked the most fluid and smooth:

I asked Fultz if that felt like his most comfortable shot through three games:

“Any chance I get an open shot is the most comfortable for me. But that just happens to be where I’ve been getting a lot of my shots right now. I’ve been working on all over the court but that’s definitely one of the spots that I like to get to and pull up and shoot my shot.”


Throwing his shot charts together from the first three games, he’s taken about 10 shots from the foul line area and knocked down four. The rest of the stuff he’s hitting is right around the rim:

Markelle is 11 for 33 this year, which really should be 11-32 if you take away that half-court heave from the Bulls game. That would put him at 34.3% shooting though the first three games.

It doesn’t really make sense to get into the advanced stuff until we have a few more games worth of data to parse, so maybe we can do that next week.

Fultz was, however, asked about his defense through the first week of play:

“I think I’ve been okay. I don’t think I’ve been great. I think I’ve been putting in a lot of effort but I could do more. That’s been a big focus, just giving it your all on the defensive end, just going down and playing your heart out. I don’t think I’ve been bad, I think I’ve been doing good and making a couple of mistakes I can fix. I’m definitely looking to improve.”

When asked what the coaching staff has highlighted for him to focus on defensively, Fultz talked about using his length, being on top of the ball, and being disruptive. He did a nice job of disruption on this steal and hustle play from Saturday night:

He’ll have the opportunity to do all of that tonight in Detroit and tomorrow in Milwaukee.

If Simmons can’t go, Fultz will start at point guard with the first team while T.J. McConnell helms the second unit and Landry Shamet and Furkan Korkmaz step into bigger roles off the bench.