76ers

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas: Markelle Fultz 'will fit with anyone'

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas: Markelle Fultz 'will fit with anyone'

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said on a conference call Monday morning that Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, expected to be taken first overall by the Sixers in Thursday’s NBA draft, should have no problem playing next to Ben Simmons in the team’s new-look backcourt.

“Markelle Fultz will fit with anyone,” said Bilas, who will be part of ESPN’s coverage team Thursday. “He is the most complete offensive player in the draft.”

The Sixers swung a trade with Boston to acquire the first pick, and the 6-foot-4 Fultz, a Maryland native who played a single season for the Huskies, is almost unanimously viewed as the top player available. He averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds in 2016-17 while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor and 41.3 from 3-point range.

Bilas ticked off Fultz’s attributes: “Passes. Shoots. Shoots from range. Finishes around the basket. And he’s got NBA size and length for a point guard. He’s the best pick-and-roll ball handler in the draft. He can go either way. Excellent passer, and especially an excellent passer in pick-and-roll situations.”

Bilas did add that Fultz “floats a little bit defensively,” while noting that a great many collegiate stars have flaws at that end of the floor.

“But,” Bilas added, “he’s the real deal. You could put him next to anybody, and he’ll play.”

Simmons, last year’s top overall choice, did not play in 2016-17 because of a broken foot. Coach Brett Brown has said he intends to use the 6-foot-10 forward as his point guard, but that was before it seemed possible that the Sixers, who traded up from the third spot in the draft, would have a shot at Fultz.

Fultz turned 19 on May 29. Simmons turns 21 on July 20. Joel Embiid and Dario Saric are both 23. So while the team’s talent level has clearly improved over the last few years, it also seems likely that there will be some growing pains.

“Right now, contending is not really the issue,” Bilas said. “It’s building a sustainable culture for these younger guys.”

It’s not the worst time to try and do that, given Cleveland’s dominance in the Eastern Conference.

“Right now in the East, I don’t think it really matters who Philly gets; they’re not going to challenge Cleveland the next couple years, the next few years,” Bilas said. “I don’t think anybody in the East is going to do that.”

At the same time, he added, “Even LeBron James is going to get older. Building to be at your best when Cleveland’s going to be not at their best is probably the way to go for a franchise that hasn’t performed at a high level in several years.”

Wizards 120, Sixers 115: Studs, duds, turning point and more

Wizards 120, Sixers 115: Studs, duds, turning point and more

The Sixers put on quite a show in the season opener before ultimately falling to the Wizards, 120-115, Wednesday night (see observations).

The biggest story, of course, was Joel Embiid playing 27 minutes after head coach Brett Brown said the 23-year-old big man would play "in the teens." Both Embiid and Ben Simmons shined but it wasn't enough.

After struggling in the first half, All-Star point guard John Wall took over in the second in leading Washington to the win. Wall finished with 28 points, but it took 28 shots to get there.

Despite the loss, there was plenty to like about the Sixers' performance. They'll start the season 0-1 but have plenty to build off of going into Friday night's home opener.

Turning point
With the Sixers battling back and down just two after a Simmons layup, Bradley Beal missed a three from the corner. If the Sixers could've corralled the rebound, they would've been looking at an opportunity to tie the game. Instead, Kelly Oubre Jr. timed it perfectly for a put-back slam to make it 106-102 with 5:50 left.

After getting a stop, the Wizards came right back down in transition and Beal threw a pretty alley-oop to Wall. It pushed the lead to six and got the crowd on its feet. 

The Sixers had three different opportunities to tie the game with less than a minute left, but two killer turnovers and a missed three from JJ Redick ended the comeback attempt.

Key stat
We all knew the Sixers' three-point shooting would be improved this season with the addition of Redick (4 of 8) and a healthy Jerryd Bayless (3 of 7), but my goodness. The Sixers shot 15 of 35 as a team. And that's after starting the game 2 for 9.

Offensive stud
Speaking of threes, Robert Covington was lethal from beyond. After getting off to a horrendous shooting start last season, Covington was on fire Wednesday. He led all scorers with 29 points on 9 of 15 shooting, including 7 of 11 from three.  

Embiid and Simmons also get an honorable mention here. Embiid dominated early and late, going for 18 points, 13 boards and dishing out three assists (see highlights). Simmons looked in control as the team's point guard, finishing with 18 points (7 of 15), 10 rebounds and five assists in his NBA debut. Most importantly, Simmons had just one turnover.

Offensive dud
For the most part, the team performed really well offensively. Amir Johnson had a forgettable stretch offensively with a couple of ill-advised post-ups in the third quarter. The Sixers' newest big man finished 2 of 7 and fouled out in the third quarter.

Defensive stud
T.J. McConnell did an excellent job leading the second unit on both ends of the floor. Including pestering Wall. Before Wall got into a rhythm in the second half, McConnell held him to just 3 for 13 in the first. When McConnell was in the game, nothing was easy for Wall.

Defensive dud
Redick and Bayless certainly struggled with the combination of All-Star guard Wall and Beal. Then again, there are many across the NBA that have had the same struggles. And in reality, Redick and Bayless aren't here for their defense. They're here to make shots, which they did plenty of.

Injuries
Exhale, Sixers fans. The team got out of this game healthy.

Up next
The Sixers play their home opener against Kyrie Irving and the Gordon Hayward-less Celtics on Friday night at 7 p.m. on NBCSP.

Sixers-Wizards observations: Plenty of fight but no victory in season opener

Sixers-Wizards observations: Plenty of fight but no victory in season opener

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON — The Sixers opened the season with a 120-115 loss to the Wizards on Wednesday night at the Capital One Arena. They were within two points with 20.5 seconds to play, but the Wizards played feisty down the stretch and JJ Redick missed a key three.

With 1:18 remaining, Robert Covington drilled his seventh three-pointer to cut the deficit to two. The Sixers had chances to tie or go ahead but committed two of their 17 turnovers on consecutive possessions. After Bradley Beal tacked on a free throw, the Sixers had one final shot. However, Redick couldn’t connect on a contested three with 15 seconds remaining.

In spite of the final score, the revamped Sixers strongly competed against the well-familiarized Wizards (see studs, duds, more). This game exemplified two obstacles they will face early on: overcoming the newness of their roster and juggling Joel Embiid’s playing time. Which leads to … 

• Embiid played 26:57 minutes, exceeding his (frustrated) expectation of 16. Brett Brown hadn’t set a hard number on Embiid’s playing time at shootaround Wednesday morning. He planned to be more flexible within Embiid’s restriction than last season. 

Embiid posted a double-double in his first 21:38 minutes through three quarters and seemed uncertain to return at that point. He re-entered the game, though, with 5:19 to play as the Sixers chased a win. Embiid recorded an 18-point, 13-rebound double-double with three assists.

• Ben Simmons attempted all of his shots in the paint and scored the majority at the basket. He also reached a double-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. He logged nearly 35 minutes in his debut (see highlights).

• The Markelle Fultz shoulder saga continued. Fultz took a pair of free throws with an awkward form that prompted a social media frenzy. His shot didn’t look comfortable nor natural as he deals with right shoulder soreness. Fultz made up for it with a monster block on Kelly Oubre Jr. and aggressive drives to the basket. He scored 10 points off 5 for 9 shooting from the field in 18 minutes (see highlights).

• Amir Johnson got the majority of the minutes at backup center. Brown went small with Dario Saric in the fourth. (See his train of thought here.)
 
Jahlil Okafor did not play. Okafor’s minutes may come when Embiid sits out an entire game, hypothetically, in a back-to-back. The Sixers will have to address that situation on Saturday.

• A night of firsts: Embiid’s first two points were free throws less than 45 seconds into the game. (He’s making a point of that.)
 
Simmons then scored his first NBA bucket with a driving reverse layup on a fastbreak. Fultz came in off the bench to score his first points on a fastbreak layup. Redick’s first basket as a member of the Sixers was (appropriately) a three-pointer in the second quarter. 

• Covington got into a three-point shooting rhythm. He hit 7 of 11 treys for a game-high 29 points.

• The Sixers had 17 turnovers in the game compared to the Wizards' nine.

• Fultz and Simmons made their NBA debuts, but they weren’t the only players getting into game rhythm. Take a look at how long it has been since these starters played in a regular-season contest: Bayless: Nov. 25, 2016 (wrist); Embiid: Jan. 27, 2017 (knee), Covington: Mar. 28, 2017 (knee). 

• Sixers fans chanted “Trust the Process” a minute into the game. The visiting team often is well-represented in Washington, D.C.

• The Sixers will be back in action on Friday night when they host the Boston Celtics in their home opener (7 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports app).