76ers

Markelle Fultz likely to start season on bench for Sixers

CAMDEN, N.J. — Brett Brown likely will bring Markelle Fultz in off the bench to start the season. 

The No. 1 pick missed the majority of the preseason because of soreness in his right knee and right shoulder. Fultz played a total of 47 minutes over just two games. He practiced Sunday.

When asked if Fultz will start, Brown said “I don’t believe so” and noted the lack of in-game experience. The Sixers face the Wizards’ dangerous backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal in the regular season opener Wednesday. 

“He hasn’t played much basketball in preseason,” Brown said Sunday. “He’s been out for a while. He hasn’t been with our group. I think the decision like, do you put him into the fire right away and have him play against starting NBA defensive players, especially with the little foundation that he has? I don’t think that’s smart.”

Fultz, last season’s Pac-12 leading scorer, struggled offensively in the preseason games in which he did play. He shot 2 for 13 from the field (0 for 3 from three) and scored four points in the opener against the Grizzlies. Facing the Celtics, he scored 12 points off of 5 for 11 shooting from the field (no three-point attempts).

“At the end of the day, I want to do whatever I’ve got to do to help my team win,” Fultz said. “So if that’s coming off the bench, I’m fine with that. Just contribute any ways I can.”

All the while, the change in his shot form has been in the spotlight. He missed the second preseason game against the Celtics because of shoulder soreness. He previously described the injury as ongoing and did not point to a specific moment of injury (see story). Fultz was sidelined for the final two preseason games with right knee soreness.

“My shoulder is bothering me, so that’s the reason my shot’s like that,” Fultz said. “At the end of the day, I’m not going use that as an excuse, like I said before. But my shoulder is the main reason why my shot’s doing that.”

The Sixers traded up to draft Fultz first overall largely because of his ability to complement Ben Simmons off the ball. The pair hasn’t played together much since then, though. Jerryd Bayless started four of the five preseason games at shooting guard alongside Simmons.

“You have a plan in your head. It’s deviated from the summer, lots of it because of his injuries and lack of availability,” Brown said. “But we’ll all sort of see how I use him and how he uses himself. It will all be driven out of, how do we develop him and still win games?”

Fultz’s role could change throughout the season. The Sixers will work through his minutes, guard pairings and ball-handling responsibilities. These considerations will be based on Fultz’s health, matchups and the availability of his teammates, all the while trying to be successful. 

“The balance of development and winning is a slippery slope because he hasn’t played basketball and he’s really had an erratic preseason,” Brown said. “How we are fair in delivering him to an NBA court and situations that I put him in and volume of minutes he gets with the notion he’s the first player chosen, we understand the microscope, the pedestal that he is on. But the reality with all those other things that I just said are also my responsibility to figure it all out. Ultimately, you’ve got play and develop him and take some hits so that he can grow with us.”