Markelle Fultz eager to learn to play off the ball in Sixers' summer league debut

Markelle Fultz eager to learn to play off the ball in Sixers' summer league debut

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. 

These players could come 'out of left field' for Sixers

These players could come 'out of left field' for Sixers

Brett Brown’s witnessed many playoff battles during his days as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs.

That’s when the stars shine brightest in an attempt to help their team hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. It’s also when role players get an opportunity to change the course of a series and leave an imprint that lasts a lifetime.

Think Kenny Smith’s seven three-pointers in Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Finals, Steve Kerr’s series-sealing jumper in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals and Robert Horry in, well, too many games to count.

“Every one of my years with San Antonio, 12 of them, somebody came out of left field in one of the games for six minutes, maybe more, and had a significant impact on a win,” Brown said last week.

Sure, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are going to do the heavy lifting. But the real question is who else will make a significant contribution during those crucial postseason moments?

Robert Covington is certainly not planning to shy away from the big stage.

After three months of sliding production, the swingman has regained his shooting form at just the right time as the Sixers appear headed for their first postseason berth since 2011-12. Covington is shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from three-point range with an offensive rating of 128 in March.

“My teammates have been pretty much finding me the same shots, but I just changed up a little bit of my workout, switched it up,” Covington said after scoring 18 points (6 for 12 shooting) in the Sixers’ 108-94 win over the Hornets on Monday. “That’s what allowed me to get where I’m at now. My teammates have been finding me open spots. We’ve been moving the ball really well.

“That’s just doing the right things and waiting on that moment.”

Marco Belinelli knows all about seizing that moment. He’s played — and played very well at times — over the course of 48 career playoff games.

The Sixers got a taste against the Hornets of just how much of a boost Belinelli can give a team when he’s on target. The 10-year veteran scored 21 points off the bench and contributed five of the Sixers’ 18 threes as he sharpens his game for the major challenge on the horizon.

“It’s huge,” Simmons said of finding shooters such as Belinelli and Covington in addition to JJ Redick in close games. “It’s just the way we’ve been playing all year.”

With Justin Anderson now back in the rotation and contributing, it could be the performance of secondary guys that keep the Sixers playing longer than anyone expected before the season started.

Ben Simmons shrugs off mental fatigue with another triple-double

Ben Simmons shrugs off mental fatigue with another triple-double


Around 6 p.m., Ben Simmons spoke about mental fatigue and the frustrations it can cause. 

An hour later, he hit the court and posted an 11-point, 12-rebound, 15-assist triple-double … with zero turnovers.

“I wish he was more mentally fatigued in the future,” Brett Brown said with a laugh. 

The 21-year-old rookie may be feeling the weight of his first NBA season, but he certainly didn’t show it Monday in the Sixers’ 108-94 win over the Hornets (see observations)

Simmons recorded his third triple-double in the last four games. He exhibited disciplined court vision by finding his teammates with a high level of ease and chemistry that’s been developing over the season (see highlights).

“I was trusting them to knock down shots,” Simmons simply put it. “They make it easy for me.”

Simmons became the first rookie in the NBA to record a triple-double with 15 assists and no turnovers. Only David Robinson and Andre Iguodala had reached a triple-double without an error as rookies. 

Simmons considers his assists and turnovers to be the most meaningful stats of the triple-double, noting his turnovers usually are caused by mental errors. 

"That’s amazing," Joel Embiid said. "To be able to make the right reads and not turn the ball over, there’s a few guys in the league that can do that ... that just shows you that he can be a great point guard."

The 6-foot-10 point guard is averaging 16.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game over 34 minutes. With each game that passes, Simmons continues to be linked with the feats of Hall of Famers. From joining in the same company as Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson to moving ahead of Allen Iverson for most 10-assist games by a Sixers rookie, his performances are often tied back to historical markers. 

“I think people get caught up in how many points I score every game,” Simmons said. “It’s not about that. It’s a matter of points that we’re getting as a team and how many stops we get … 

"People are always going to say I need to do certain things but I know what I’m capable of and I know what I’m really good at.”