Markelle Fultz had a nice night in Indiana with seven points, two rebounds, four assists, a career-high four steals, and just one turnover.
He was solid defensively and he looks comfortable with the ball in his hands. That’s good and bad, good because he’s showing more confidence, and bad because the Sixers already have a point guard.
Don’t take any media criticism the wrong way. Yeah, there are some people out there who are ready to go down the “he’s a bust” road. I see a player who looks a little more assertive out there, someone who can certainly contribute moving forward.
That’s the micro-level outlook, which is exponentially less important than the macro-level outlook, which is this:
“Can Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons play together?”
That’s the question.
It’s not whether or not Markelle is good player or whether Ben is a good player, it’s whether there is redundancy in what each guy brings to the floor. Right now neither player is a consistent shooter beyond five feet. Neither player is even trying a significant amount of shouts from that distance. And because of that, defenders can sag, throw double teams at Joel Embiid, and affect the Sixers’ ability to move the ball in and out of the post.
Head coach Brett Brown was on the 97.5 the Fanatic morning show today, and touched on that idea of overlapping skill-sets:
“I think from a reality standpoint, and a coaching standpoint, to look at a 20-year-old player, and understand that he is best with the ball – he is a point guard. He’s a point guard, end of story. And so, when you say that, all of a sudden you say, ‘well you’ve got the rookie of the year as a point guard in Ben Simmons.’ Yes, the coach wants to try to grow Joel and Ben and Markelle together, so we start the game and try to do it that way. There will be some pains. There will be some experiences that just are unavoidable given his skill package at this stage. Then all of a sudden you start subbing, and almost all of his minutes after that point with the starting five, and it’s a five minute clump, but he has the ball. When you really zoom in on Markelle Fultz with the ball as a point guard, looking at what he does in open court, looking at his improved defense, you can’t help but project out and wonder, ‘well what is he going to be when he’s 24?’ I mean, look at the learning curve that John Wall went through. Or Derrick Rose. Russell Westbrook. You can pick them all, all over the place. You just to go ESPN.com and watch their statline or whatever – it takes time. It really does take time. So that’s my snapshot impression of Markelle Fultz today.”
Marc Farzetta asked a good follow-up question about fans who are watching Jayson Tatum flourish, also at age 20.
“I get the whole thing. I understand the whole thing. I think Jayson Tatum is an outlier. I think he’s grown to be a hell of a player. And you know, there’s no excuse-making, I do understand that comparison. But I feel like if you dive into some names, some of those great names that I’ve just said, there’s a tolerance and a patience that we all should have when we judge Markelle Fultz.”
Of course it takes time, and there’s no guarantee, that even if Markelle and Ben both develop into wonderful players, that they would ever be the ideal complementary pieces to each other (and also Joel Embiid).
Maybe you go back to Bryan Colangelo then, and ask if he did not have the foresight to see the overlap in each player’s skill-set. Was it readily apparent on tape? Probably not. Markelle was a good shooter at Washington and there was certainly nothing to suggest that he would struggle to score in the NBA.
Moving into December and January, the question that needs to be asked is this:
“How long are you willing to live with the redundancy?”
How long do you continue to try Markelle in the starting five before going back to JJ Redick? How long can you deal with the “pains” and “unavoidable” experiences that Brown mentioned earlier? Is it 15 games? 25? The entire season? That’s really the focus here. What kind of timeline are we working with?
If it comes down to playing Fultz as a backup ball-handler, that honestly is not the worst thing in the world. Every team needs point guard depth. Look at what Terry Rozier did for the Celtics last year. T.J. McConnell gave the Sixers some good minutes when called on. You just hope the #1 overall pick is a little more than point guard depth at this point in his career and moving forward.
But that’s the proper framing here. Don’t confuse the perceived negative media attitude as being directed specifically towards Markelle. He’s done some nice things so far. Ben Simmons has done some nice things so far. We need to evaluate the Sixers from a macro perspective to try to determine if the core of Markelle/Ben/Joel is feasible moving forward. Does that trio of top-three overall draft picks work well enough together to beat the Celtics or Raptors in a seven game series?
I don’t know.