The final hurdles for Markelle Fultz to make return

The final hurdles for Markelle Fultz to make return

CAMDEN, N.J. — Markelle Fultz is not ready to return to the court.

Not today, and maybe not the remainder of the month. The 2017 No. 1 pick has to continue to improve his shot and his health before he plays for the first time since Oct. 23.

Following Sunday’s practice head coach Brett Brown explained the work that still has to be done.

“It’s my understanding that there is still some discomfort from time to time,” Brown said. “And I think that’s part of recognizing that there’s still some sort of erratic shooting, that it’s not where it used to be yet. And I hope everybody writes that ‘yet.’”

Start with his shoulder. Fultz was sidelined because of the right shoulder and the scapular muscle imbalance. He received treatment and physical therapy with the Sixers and Dr. Ben Kibler, Medical Director of the Shoulder Center of Kentucky at the Lexington Clinic. Fultz was cleared for a key physical marker, full-contact 5-on-5, last weekend, but has not participated in a complete practice.

“I don’t know if we could say it’s 100 percent,” Brown said. ”The doctors could say that better than me. But it certainly is getting better, enough where they’ve allowed him to practice and shoot threes and pretty much do everything that the team does.”

When asked if Fultz has to be 100 percent with his shoulder before he can play, Brown replied, “I think what he needs to be is able to shoot a basketball.”

Then there’s the shot. Fultz, who averaged 23.2 points last year in college, altered his form and struggled to knock down buckets early into his rookie season. Part of the enigma of this situation is the question of cause and effect: did Fultz change his shot because of the injury, or was the injury caused by the change in his shot?

In the limited portions of practice open to the media, Fultz has looked more effective driving to the basket than pulling up for jumpers and threes. Brown noted his criteria for evaluating Fultz has more to do with him “passing an eye test” than the distance from which he is shooting.

“How would I assess where his shot is currently at? It’s not where it used to be. It’s not where it used to be,” Brown said. “His free throw, I think, is. But some of the longer shots and the rise ups are not. And that’s just part of him getting through this sort of a progressive adjustment, trying to figure out the injury going forward. But I think that it isn’t. The free throw is.”

Brown has a plan to coach Fultz back from injury, just as he has done with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. This routine includes individual drills, one-on-one shooting tournaments with teammates Brown calls “Wimbledon,” and reviewing film from Fultz’s performance in practice.

“His health, his confidence, his whole reloading to an NBA court, in my opinion, is going to be how well do you practice, and I’m going to coach the hell out of him,” Brown said. “We’re going to jump him and scold him and teach him and coach him like he’d been with me forever … We’re walking down the month of January. We’re going to chart it, we’re going to show it.”

Sixers' Joel Embiid named to All-NBA second team

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Sixers' Joel Embiid named to All-NBA second team

Sixers center Joel Embiid has been named to the All-NBA second team. 

Embiid, 24, had a breakout 2017-18 season. He averaged 22.9 points, 11 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 blocks per game in 63 starts. 

This is Embiid’s first appearance on any of the All-NBA teams. He took 11 first-team votes, 78-second team votes and 5 third-team votes for a total of 294 points — the eighth most in the NBA. 

Embiid is the only player on any of the three teams named as a pure center. 

If you’re wondering, rookie Ben Simmons took in 36 total points, while his biggest competition for Rookie of the Year, Donovan Mitchell got just two. 

Here is the All-NBA first team: 

G: James Harden
F: LeBron James
C/F: Anthony Davis
G: Damian Lillard
F: Kevin Durant

Second team: 

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo
G: Russell Westbrook
C: Joel Embiid
F/C: LaMarcus Aldridge
G: DeMar DeRozan

Third team: 

G: Stephen Curry
G: Victor Olapido
C/F: Karl Anthony-Towns
F/G: Jimmy Butler
F: Paul George 


Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Dario Saric

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Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Dario Saric

Dario Saric

Position: Power forward

Status for 2018-19: Third year of rookie deal ($2,526,840)

Saric in 2017-18
With the arrival of JJ Redick and a healthy Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, Saric came off the bench to start the season. That lasted just five games as Saric struggled in that role and Brett Brown looked to shake things up after a 1-4 start.  The second-year Croatian went on to start 73 games.

Saric averaged 14.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 29.6 minutes per game. All of those numbers are slightly better than last season, but his efficiency improved greatly. Saric took the identical amount of field goal attempts per contest the last two seasons, but still saw his scoring average raise by almost two full points. He shot just 31 percent on 4.2 threes a game his rookie season. That percentage jumped to 39 percent on 5.1 attempts. That’s well above league average and extremely promising as the 24-year-old continues to develop.

Saric started off the playoffs on fire, then struggled, and then ended his first playoff run with two massive games. Overall, his numbers looked great (17.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 39 percent from three), but you’d just like to see more consistency. 

Signature game
For Saric, his finest game was his last. In Game 5 against the Celtics, Saric tied a season-high with 27 points. He also added 10 boards and four assists while hitting all three of his shots from three. This after posting 25 points and eight boards during the Sixers’ only win of the series in Game 4. 

Looking ahead to 2018-19
Saric is still on his rookie deal so he comes very cheap. With no international games on his slate this summer, Saric heads into the offseason healthy and should be rested coming into next season. With how much he improved from Year 1 to Year 2, it’ll be intriguing to see what Saric does in Year 3.

Of course what the Sixers do this offseason will have a huge effect on every player, including Saric. He’s been mentioned by more than one outlet as a possible trade asset in a deal for the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard. Saric seems like the type of player Gregg Popovich would love, but would the Sixers pull the trigger on a deal including a player that was such a big piece for them?

If the Sixers are able to acquire a superstar without giving up Saric, there’s no reason he shouldn’t continue to excel. He’s proven to be a great complement to the team’s young stars already and brings an edge to his game in addition to his skill set.

On Saric
“What I should work on is more footwork, how to guard smaller guards in some situations with the switching, how to defend a quicker guy. If I talk about my offensive skills, I think I need to improve again more shooting, more one-on-one in the low post, more one-on-one facing from the 3-point line. I think I need to really bring my game, if it’s possible, one level up.”

-Saric on what he needs to work on this offseason