You won’t hear a single Sixers player say anything negative about Markelle Fultz and that’s not just because he’s their teammate. It goes much deeper for the rookie.
“Having all my teammates, from T.J. (McConnell) all the way down to the starters, Ben (Simmons), Joel (Embiid), everybody on the team. We talked every day, we had a close relationship,” Fultz said during the Sixers’ end-of-season press conferences Thursday. “It almost felt like I was in college, just being able to hang out with guys off the court, go out to eat and stuff like that.
“The relationships I built with these guys, they’re life-long relationships now that I have with these guys where they know I have their back and they have my back, so I’m very glad I got a chance to be on this team and be with this group of guys.”
Having that level of support was necessary as Fultz endured one of the most trying first seasons for a No. 1 pick in recent memory.
After being taken with the top overall selection in the 2017 draft, Fultz missed time throughout the summer and training camp with ankle and knee injuries.
Then came the much-publicized shoulder issue. Whether the guard changed his shooting motion because of the pain or his newfound shot mechanics caused the pain will forever be the chicken-and-egg debate among Sixers fans, but it ended up sidelining him for 68 games.
Fultz was able to finally return and play in 10 regular-season games before dipping his toe into the postseason waters. However, that was short-lived as he saw action in only the first three games of the Miami series and then took a seat on the bench.
You got all of that? Now factor in the 19-year-old had to navigate his way through all of it while hearing questions and criticism every day about whether the organization made a mistake drafting him.
“Obviously I had injuries, I had stuff that I had to get over,” said Fultz, who averaged 7.1 points, 3.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 14 regular-season appearances. “It was God’s plan. That’s the way it happened, and I think I dealt with it fine.
“I’ve been going through stuff like this my whole life really, going against the odds and a whole bunch of outside noise. I don’t really look to it. I’m with my team, I’m with family, and that’s all I really care about. All the other stuff doesn’t really matter to me on what other people think or what other people have to say. I’m just worried about how my team’s doing, how my coaches and teammates look at me, and how I look at myself.”
“We had a long chat with Markelle yesterday,” Brett Brown said Friday. “The things that he had to endure this season, we all understand.”
What’s also understood is that even with the flashes of talent Fultz showed during his abbreviated first season and strong support from the front office, he must get better. That starts with an important summer of getting back to being the guy who wowed the Sixers before they took him atop last year’s draft.
“If I were to shrink it, I want him getting back his mojo,” said Brown, who admitted he hopes Fultz plays in summer league again. “I want him playing basketball in a high-level, sort of energized individual instruction.”
Fultz said he plans to “improve on all aspects” of his game this summer to prove he belongs in a Sixers jersey. And after his first professional season ended watching other rookies make an impact on the game's biggest stage, he wants to show he can be the player to push the team to the next tier.
“First of all, those guys did an unbelievable job this year, out there playing as hard as they could and obviously showing you their talents,” Fultz said. “Coming back next year, I think once I join that, it just takes us to the next step. The stuff we did, nobody thought we were going to do. Coming in next year, we have bigger expectations and everything, so I just can’t wait to put my foot on it.”