Mike Conley

In tough preseason opener, Markelle Fultz sees early taste of 'everybody's best shot'

In tough preseason opener, Markelle Fultz sees early taste of 'everybody's best shot'

Happily for Markelle Fultz, his preseason debut with the 76ers not only doesn’t count; it was barely counted.

A glitch with the stat system delayed delivery of the official box score. But in time, it appeared, in all its ugliness. In time there was confirmation that Fultz shot 2 for 13 and scored four points as the Sixers, minus Joel Embiid, lost to the Grizzlies, minus Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, by a 110-89 score Wednesday (see observations).

Nobody seemed too concerned about that, least of all Fultz himself.

“Everybody has a night like that,” the rookie guard said. “It’s a long season. There’s going to be times when your shot’s not falling.”

Fultz made his first attempt, a backdoor lefty layup from Ben Simmons (more on him here), and his next-to-last try, an uncontested dunk off a feed from T.J. McConnell. In between, he missed 10 straight — three of them three-pointers, but most of the others within 10 feet of the rim.

Twice he was blocked by 6-foot-10 Deyonta Davis. Other times he couldn’t quite coax his shots home. As Brett Brown said, “He’s going into a whole different treeline.”

Bigger and more athletic than the ones the No. 1 overall pick saw in his lone collegiate season at Washington. Takes some getting used to.

Conley, one of the league’s finest point guards, knows all about it.

“We all go through it,” he said, having rested and looked on from the bench. “It’s just a stage.”

Finishing is just part of the learning process for Fultz. There is also the adjustment to playing off the ball, playing alongside Simmons and facing down all the old heads who will surely test him.

And doing all that at age 19.

“He’s raw right now,” Grizzlies coach David Fizdale said, “and everybody is going to go after him because he is the No. 1 pick. That’s to be expected.”

Before the game, Fizdale praised Fultz’s maturity, extolled the virtues of his “grown-up game.” That, the coach added, will carry him through.

“He’ll settle in and his talent will pick up,” Fizdale said, “but there are a lot of guys where their first few games in this league, people are hunting for them just to test them out. He’ll go through his bumps and bruises, but you can't deny that level of talent that’s there. … I expect him to be a heck of a player in this league. It’s just a matter of time.”

A process, as it were.

“He’s set himself up for this,” Conley said. “He’s built for this. He’s trained for this. And I’m sure he’s just going to be going through it the first couple games of preseason. After that, it’s sit down, look at the film and learn from it, get better and be the guy that I know he believes he is.”

Conley was the fourth overall pick in 2007, so he knows something about the pressure high draft picks face. (Not to mention those faced by well-compensated veterans. He signed a five-year, $153 million contract in 2016, which at that point was the richest in league history.)

“It’s a lot of pressure (to be taken early), because you’ve got a lot of guys who know who you are, even though you haven’t played a game yet,” Conley said. “He’s definitely going to get everybody’s best shot. He’s got to know that. You’ve got to be prepared for it.”

But Conley also sees Fultz as a level-headed kid, as a guy who will weather the storm. 

“He’s got all the tools,” he said. “Obviously one preseason game, you can’t really judge anything. But his game, I think, is just going to continue to get better. Out there tonight, it looked like he’s still trying to find his way — find his way through the offense.”

Fultz believes he and Simmons can thrive together, that they have already made strides. He further believes that on nights when his shot isn’t falling, he must seek out other ways to contribute.

And finally, he believes he is ready for the challenges ahead — like the one coming up Friday, when the Kyrie Irving-led Celtics come to town.

“I’m actually very, very excited just to test myself against somebody I grew up watching just last year in the Finals,” Fultz said. “Getting the chance to go against one of the best point guards in the NBA right now, I think, will be a good challenge for myself.”

No, that one won’t count, either. Soon enough, though.

Sixers notes, quotes and tidbits: Fultz eager to see how he fares defensively

Sixers notes, quotes and tidbits: Fultz eager to see how he fares defensively

CAMDEN, N.J. — Markelle Fultz is hours away from his first NBA preseason game and it still hasn't sunk in yet. The 19-year-old is eager for the Sixers' preseason opener against the Grizzlies.

"Growing up, watching the NBA, watching games, and to finally be here playing my first one, it kind of hasn't hit me," Fultz said after shootaround. "But I know as soon as I get on the court and I'm finally guarding somebody that I've been watching growing up, it'll hit me then. Every time I think about it, it's kind of crazy."

Fultz expects to share ball-handling responsibilities with Ben Simmons. He wants to use the game as a measuring stick on the defensive end. One player he won't have to guard is Mike Conley, who is sitting out.

The No. 1 pick was unfazed by being left off Rookie of the Year predictions in NBA.com's GM survey. Lonzo Ball received 62 percent of the votes, followed by Ben Simmons with 24 percent. Fultz did not receive any votes.

"It really doesn't bother me," he said. "I know what I'm capable of. I know what my goals are. I don't really look into it. That's what they think. That's their opinion. At the end of the day, I'm going to work to do what my goals are and what my team goals are."

Injury report
Joel Embiid (recovering from left knee surgery), Dario Saric (rest), Amir Johnson (sprained right ankle) and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (right knee patellar tendinitis) are out. Luwawu-Cabarrot participated in shootaround while the others did not.  

Free throws
Jahlil Okafor said he expects to play 15 minutes in his first game since March 22. … JJ Redick is looking forward to his first taste of game action with the Sixers. "I've been excited since July 1," he said.

Sixers free-agent fits: Point guards — Conley, Lin and more

Sixers free-agent fits: Point guards — Conley, Lin and more

Over the course of this week, we will look at the Sixers' free-agent possibilites at each position. First up is point guard.

Sixers point guards for 2016-17
T.J. McConnell (non-guaranteed, $874,636)

Kendall Marshall (non-guaranteed, $2,048,257)

Current PG situation
The Sixers' biggest hole is at the point guard spot. Brett Brown has deemed this position the most important on the court, yet it has been the most changing. 

Last season, the Sixers did not establish a consistent starting point guard until they re-acquired Ish Smith in December. Smith wasn't brought in as the long-term point guard of the future, though. He is an unrestricted free agent again this summer and should receive interest from other teams after a solid season stepping into the starting role. 

There are several young point guards on the market, but the Sixers would benefit the most from bringing in someone with veteran experience to be a leader on the court. While incoming rookie Ben Simmons can play point-forward, the team plans to start him off at the four spot and let him learn the NBA first before assigning him ball-handling duties. With that in mind, a good free-agent fit would be able to play off the ball when Simmons does run the floor. 

Of the current players, McConnell has developed into a backup option after emerging as the sleeper of last season's team. The Sixers would be getting a bargain with his contract value (see below). The sparingly-utilized Marshall has a non-guaranteed deal at just over $2 million for next season and the team could get more return spending that money elsewhere. 

Reach free agent
Mike Conley (unrestricted)

Even in spite of his injuries, Conley is the best point guard available in free agency. He averaged 15.3 points, 6.1 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.5 turnovers for the Grizzlies last season. Conley has a high basketball IQ and is playoff-tested. He will garner big money on the market, and the Sixers are not necessarily looking to break the bank this summer to fill the role. Conley could stay with the Grizzlies, who put together a Justin Timberlake-led video to express their interest in keeping him. He will turn 29 in October. 

Possible fits
Matthew Dellavedova (restricted, $1,434,095 qualifying offer)
Could there be another Australian on the Sixers next season? Brown, who coached there, is a fan of Dellavedova's game. Dellavedova, 25, averaged 7.5 points, 4.4 assists and 2.1 rebounds for the championship-winning Cavaliers. Dellavedova could have double value to the Sixers: he could run the floor and give Simmons a sense of familiarity being from Australia. 

Jeremy Lin (unrestricted)
Lin was a backup for the Hornets last season and could earn a paycheck this summer as a starter. He would like to find a long-term team, which may not fit into the Sixers' plans for the future. Lin, though, does have six years of experience and averaged 11.7 points, 3.0 assists and 3.2 rebounds mostly off the bench for the Hornets. 

Greivis Vasquez (unrestricted)
Vasquez's sixth season was cut short after only 23 games because of foot surgery last December. Coming off of injury, could he be available at a discount? When healthy, he is a high-energy ball handler. Vasquez averaged 5.7 points, 4.0 assists and 2.0 rebounds per game last season.