Markelle Fultz’s first summer league experience will be twofold: get adjusted to running the floor in the NBA as well as playing off the ball.
Fultz will not have a clear-cut role as the point guard in summer league action. The Sixers plan to pair him with Larry Drew II and play the two-guard at times.
“There will be possessions where Markelle will be in the game with Larry Drew, who is a dominant ball-handler, and they're going to have to learn how to play with each other,” assistant coach and director of player development Billy Lange said. “Then there will be possessions when Markelle is probably the primary, or dominant, ball-handler.”
This pairing is practice for how Fultz could be used with Ben Simmons this coming season. The Sixers have not stamped off on Simmons’ exact role, whether it will be a true point guard or a forward that runs the point (see story). What they do know is, they envision Simmons being a “primary ball handler.”
Fultz's ability to play without the ball is one of the reasons he fit so well into the Sixers' system and traded up to draft him first overall. Lange sees that need for versatility extending beyond Fultz’s pairing with Simmons.
“It's important for him [to play off the ball] regardless of who he is on the court with, because if he has Joel [Embiid], Joel is going to want to touch the ball,” Lange said. “Dario [Saric] has shown himself able to initiate some offense. So regardless of the Ben-Markelle pairing, it's primarily how we play anyone with the ball. The ball really dictating the movement of the offense. He has to learn. Being with a guy like Ben that can handle it, it becomes really important that Markelle learns that balance.”
Fultz has been inquisitive in his first days with the Sixers and shown a willingness to study the game. He already has an idea of the adjustments he will have to make playing the two-guard.
“Being ready, moving without the ball, not just ball watching,” Fultz said. “Being a point guard, you see stuff where a guy has the ball and you might want to say, 'Damn, I wish you made that pass.' But just always staying focused and moving without the ball.”
Fultz is prepared to take on multiple roles. He played one through four in high school, and while he won’t be tasked with guarding power forwards in summer league, he will have to shift across the backcourt.
“Being versatile is one of the things that I worked on so I can play more than one position,” Fultz said. “It's pretty cool. I can score the ball easy. I can get other people involved easier. It's just another part of the game that I'm learning to become the best player I can possibly be.”
The Sixers will open summer league action in Utah on Monday night against the Celtics.