LAS VEGAS -- While Markelle Fultz doesn’t want to limit himself to one improvement, the Sixers plan to hone in on a specific aspect of his game during Las Vegas Summer League.
“He’s going to work on defense first,” assistant coach Lloyd Pierce said after practice Friday. “That’s my area of emphasis. That’s an area that he’s come into our organization wanting to address.”
Fultz’s offensive abilities are unquestioned. He led all freshmen in the Pac-12 and the entire nation in scoring last season (23.2 points). Fultz, in his first taste of the NBA, averaged 20.0 points in two games this week in Utah Jazz Summer League.
When assessing his skill sets as a whole, defense has been the area that could use work on the pro level. Often a college team’s record can be viewed as a reflection of its best player. In Fultz’s case, Washington went 9-22 last season.
“He’s been criticized, probably unfairly,” Pierce said. “People associate their record with his defense and any deficiencies he may have had.”
Fultz had been texting with Pierce throughout the week to go over his performance in preparation for Las Vegas. He is open to what the coaching staff has to say about what it has seen.
“I want criticism that’s going to make me better as a player to help this team,” Fultz said. “Once I step out in here in Vegas, I’m working on my defense, keeping my man in front, screen, getting through screens, being tough on the defensive end.”
The Sixers drafted Fultz No. 1 overall with the outlook that he can develop on the defensive end.
“We really think Markelle could be a really good two-way player,” president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said on draft night. “We just have to now get him to think that way and begin to play that way all the time.”
Fultz is up for that challenge. He knows the caliber of competition in the NBA will greatly surpass those he easily handled in high school and college. In the past, he said he “stayed on his heels a little bit too much” but now is zoned in on keeping his man in front of him.
“Here everybody is skilled,” Fultz said. “Any given day people get blown by, everybody can pass you and everybody can score the ball. So, it just has to do with being more mental until you lock it in and just trusting my bigs when screens come, not looking back. It’s going to be a challenge every night coming out to guard whoever is in front of me, so that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Fultz will be under a spotlight in summer league. That comes with the territory of being the first pick. The 19-year-old is ready for it.
“He’s a competitor,” Pierce said. “When you’re a No. 1 pick and you’re as talented as he is and he’s a young guy that’s still learning, when he hears something, you see his competitive side come out and you see him wanting to address it.”