CAMDEN, N.J. — There’s still no timetable.
For Sixers fans skeptical Markelle Fultz will return anytime soon, that’s the bottom line. But there’s no question Fultz is making progress.
According to the team, Fultz is cleared to begin “the final stage of his return-to-play program.” This final stage for Fultz will consist of “gradual re-integration into team practices and training, complemented with additional conditioning work to support fitness readiness for gameplay.”
What exactly does that mean? Tuesday, Fultz played half-court 4-on-4 with his teammates at practice. He also played some 1-on-1 with Jacob Pullen and James Michael McAdoo and did individual skill work after practice, including pull-up jumpers from about 15 to 18 feet (see more here).
“I think he looked OK,” Brett Brown said. “I think everybody shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves in relation to what does that mean, but it is the most he’s done with me in a while. What I saw today was just encouraging to see him playing with his teammates, and playing live basketball.”
It’s not as if Fultz is on the brink of game action, but it’s the closest he’s been since he was shut down in late October.
Brown is confident Fultz can make a major difference once he finally does return.
“The reality of the whole thing is, the more you feel a team and coach a team, his skill set ties everything together,” Brown said. “He can make plays. And when you are missing some of those qualities in a group, things get exposed. And he can do that, he can create a shot for himself and he can create a shot for others. So when you ask, do I project out and anticipate what he can do when he gets in there? Every day.”
It’s clear that the Sixers could use another player with dynamic offensive skills. Whether or not Fultz can be that player remains an open question. The Sixers thought he fit that description well when they drafted him No. 1.
In the short term, Fultz would almost definitely be an upgrade on the Sixers’ current guard play off the bench.
Justin Anderson has been sidelined with shin splints since Nov. 15. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is averaging 6.0 points and 1.7 rebounds in 16.3 minutes per game. His 6.49 PER is 10th-worst among qualified players. Furkan Korkmaz is out indefinitely with a Lisfranc injury.
Everything is still hypothetical until Fultz actually returns, but it’s easy to see him immediately helping the Sixers once he’s back.
Like Brown, Dario Saric thinks the Sixers will be a better team once Fultz’s saga ends and he gets back onto the court.
“I think Markelle will find his spot there, and for sure he will help us a lot with his drives, with his shots, with his moves, because he is a pretty good player,” Saric said.
“And we are here to help him. He was the first pick, a lot of pressure on him, and all the guys are here to help him. It will be hard for him the first couple games to find a way to play with a new team, new roster, NBA basketball, but I think he’ll find a way and be a very, very good, excellent player.”