76ers

Confident Markelle Fultz has his swagger back

Confident Markelle Fultz has his swagger back

CAMDEN, N.J. — This was a different person.

Markelle Fultz appeared to be a new man when he sat down at the podium Friday for Sixers media day, and not simply because he’s in better shape and sporting some fresh cornrows.

Fultz exuded confidence from the moment he stepped into the room, which was a far cry from the player that was unsure of himself during a much-scrutinized rookie season.

What a difference a few months can make.

“Everybody knows what happened last year, so this summer was really just me working to get my mechanics back, my confidence back, my swagger back. It was a very productive summer,” Fultz said. “I’m happy with the work I put in with Drew (Hanlen). We put up a lot of shots, a lot of hours in the gym. I’m happy with where I’m at right now going into training camp.”

Happiness was a fleeting feeling for Fultz a season ago. 

Injuries started accumulating right away for the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. Fultz sprained his left ankle during summer league and had right knee soreness during the preseason.

Then came the elephant in the room with the mysterious shoulder issue that forced the guard into that funky shooting motion and a 68-game absence. 

While Hanlen claimed it was actually “the yips,” Fultz, showing just how much more confident he is in himself, swatted down that assertion.

“I think it was a mis-term in words, but me and Drew have talked,” he said. “What happened last year was an injury. Let me get that straight. It was an injury that happened that didn’t allow me to go through the certain paths that I needed to, to shoot the ball. 

“Just like any normal person, when you’re used to doing something the same way each and every day and something happens, of course, you’re going to start thinking about it. It’s just normal.”

Unfortunately for Fultz, what also became normal were the critics. And he’s heard them all.

Broken jumper? Yep.

Inside of his own head? Uh huh.

Bust? You bet.

That was part of the motivation behind Fultz linking up with respected trainer Hanlen and putting in three-workout days that included hundreds of jumpers during each session.

Now looking back on all of the opinions about his game, Fultz actually considers it a positive. Just chalk it as fuel on the fire.

“The adversity I went through last year, I don’t think any 19-year-old ever went through what I went through last year,” he said.

“I normally work hard. I’m a hard worker, but I had a lot of motivation going into this summer. Last year I had an injury that stopped me from being able to be myself 100 percent. So this summer I was really focused on just working hard to get my shot back to how I would like it. Confidence-wise, I’m very confident going in. I’m very excited for this season.”

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Sixers 113, Jazz 107: Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid come up huge in thrilling win over Jazz

Sixers 113, Jazz 107: Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid come up huge in thrilling win over Jazz

BOX SCORE

There’s what you hope for out of a home debut and there’s what Jimmy Butler did.

Butler got off to an outstanding start and finished strong in leading the Sixers to a thrilling 113-107 win over the Utah Jazz in his first game with the team at a raucous Wells Fargo Center Friday night.

The Sixers improved to 10-7 and a perfect 8-0 at home. Butler and Joel Embiid combined for 21 points in the fourth to secure the win.

Here are observations from the win.

• In his home debut, Butler got off to a great start to say the least. Like in Orlando, the Sixers ran a play for Butler on their opening possession. Unlike against the Magic, Butler aggressively took the ball to the hole with a beautiful finish.

After denying an entry pass to Rudy Gobert, chants of “Jim-my But-ler” filled the Wells Fargo Center. Butler promptly hit a three as the crowd then gave him a standing ovation.

This place probably hasn’t been that loud since Markelle Fultz hit his first three in the opener.

Brett Brown has faced a ton of unfair criticism recently, but like him or not, you have to admit that his out of bounds plays over the last couple seasons have been exceptional.

Exhibit A with Butler.

Butler is definitely a complete basketball player. What caught my eye in this game was Butler’s ability to facilitate. He had seven assists, none prettier than this one.

Butler finished with 28 points on an impressive 12 of 15 from the field, including eight points in the fourth quarter.

• No matter how great Butler is, it’s clear that Embiid is the catalyst of this team. Embiid received a technical after picking up his second foul late in the second quarter. It appeared the officials got the call right on a moving screen from Embiid and the T was simply out of frustration. 

It really hurt the Sixers as Embiid then picked up his fourth foul on the Jazz’s first possession of the second half and was removed from the game immediately. He didn’t return until the fourth. The team struggled without him on the floor as veteran Amir Johnson, despite going 2 of 3 from three, isn’t giving them enough off the bench.

Embiid came up huge in the fourth, scoring 13 of his 23 points in the final period.

• Ben Simmons had a bounce-back game of sorts. He looked more aggressive than in Butler’s debut in Orlando. He finished with 10 points, eight assists and eight rebounds.

• There was more good and weird from Markelle Fultz Friday night. On his first touch, he came off a screen from Embiid and nailed a mid-range jumper. It looked confident and smooth.

Then this happened.

That form is certainly new to me, but the shots themselves actually looked good. It appears that the more time Fultz has to think, the worse his shot gets. He finished 2 of 4 from the line. Whatever works, I guess. 

Fultz also had some trouble shedding Mitchell, who picked his pocket twice near the end of the first quarter. He did have two great drives late in third quarter. He drove right into the chest of Gobert and got a layup and drew a foul.

• After showing promise in their first game as a unit, the Sixers’ new starting five of Butler, Simmons, Embiid, JJ Redick and Wilson Chandler got off to an impressive start. They opened the game with a 16-4 run, making 8 of 8 from the field.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the unit long in the second half after Embiid got into foul trouble, but it did close out the game on a strong note.

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Sixers vs. Jazz: Live stream, storylines, game time, more for Jimmy Butler's home debut

Sixers vs. Jazz: Live stream, storylines, game time, more for Jimmy Butler's home debut

Here he comes, Philadelphia.

Jimmy Butler makes his home debut for the Sixers Friday night vs. the Utah Jazz.

Here’s a closer look at the matchup.

• Butler had a quiet but solid debut for the Sixers. He finished the game with 14 points (6 of 12 shooting) and showed a little of his elite defensive ability.

The end result was obviously not what the team or Butler wanted, but you did see signs that this thing could work (see story). The two-man game with Butler and Joel Embiid looked intriguing (see film review). Also, the starting five of Butler, Embiid, Ben Simmons, JJ Redick and Wilson Chandler moved the ball extremely well at times.

• I’m especially intrigued by Chandler after his performance in Orlando. He showed the first signs of life for any Sixer after that horrid 21-0 Magic run and helped get the team back on top briefly. 

He finished with a season-high 14 points in 23 minutes. More importantly, it was the most spry the 31-year-old has looked since returning to the lineup from a hamstring strain. Chandler didn’t close out that game as Brett Brown still monitors his minutes. Hopefully Chandler will be let loose soon.

• There is a little concern over Simmons and Embiid fitting with Butler. The second-year point guard was very quiet in the loss Wednesday (nine points, six assists, three rebounds). You can blame some of that on Butler’s first game but he was pretty quiet in Miami as well (13 points, seven rebounds, seven assists). Embiid recorded his first triple-double, but was just 1 of 10 in the second half vs. the Magic. He also spent a great deal of time outside of the post.

The worry when the Sixers acquired Butler was about his fit, since most of his points come from inside the arc. It’s Brown’s task to try to make the pieces fit and get Simmons and Embiid going.

• The building will be electric for Butler’s debut but expect a hungry Jazz team to come out Friday night. Utah was embarrassed by the Mavericks in Dallas Wednesday, losing by 50(!) points, 118-68. The Jazz scored just 22 points in the second half. With that taste in their mouth, expect Donovan Mitchell and company to come out with their hair on fire.

• It’s been a bit of a struggle recently for Mitchell, who has been dealing with a hamstring injury of his own. The runner-up for last season’s Rookie of the Year has shot just 37 percent from the field and 26 percent from three over his last six games. In addition to the loss vs. the Mavericks, expect Mitchell to have a little extra motivation to spoil the evening for Simmons and company.

Here are the essentials for Butler’s debut.

When: 7 p.m. EST 
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia (Pregame Live starts at 6:30 p.m. EST)
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams by NBC Sports app

Roster
Jonah Bolden, F, 6-10, 220, No. 43 
Jimmy Butler, F, 6-8, 236, No. 23 
Wilson Chandler, F, 6-9/225, No. 22 
Joel Embiid, C, 7-0/260, No. 21 
Markelle Fultz, G, 6-4/200, No. 20 
* Demetrius Jackson, G, 6-1/200, No. 11 
Amir Johnson, F/C, 6-9/240, No. 5 
Furkan Korkmaz, G/F, 6-7/185, No. 30 
T.J. McConnell, G, 6-2/190, No. 12 
* Shake Milton, G, 6-6/205, No. 18 
Mike Muscala, F/C, 6-11/240, No. 31 
JJ Redick, G 6-4/195, No. 17 13
Landry Shamet, G, 6-5/190, No. 23
Ben Simmons, G/F, 6-10/230, No. 25 
Zhaire Smith, G, 6-4/200, No. 8
Justin Patton, C, 6-11/229, No. 0

* Two-way player

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