Each day leading up to Sept. 21, the official start of Sixers training camp, we'll dissect the biggest storylines facing the team ahead of the 2018-19 season.
In today’s Give and Go, Matt Haughton and Noah Levick provide their expectations for Markelle Fultz’s sophomore season.
Maybe I’m doing too much projection or maybe I’m just drinking the Drew Hanlen shot-fixing Kool-Aid. Either way, I see a big season — perhaps even award-winning — on the horizon for Fultz.
Crazy. Maybe. What’s even crazier? It won’t take that much of a leap for it to happen.
Whether it was a legitimate shoulder injury or a case of the yips, we all know Fultz’s rookie season didn’t go a planned. Still, he showed flashes of the potential the Sixers saw in him when his name was called No. 1 overall in the 2017 draft.
The ball-handling, neck-breaking quickness and ability to get to the rim. Plus, the use of his long arms to be a disruptive force on defense. It was all there. Even if the results were only 7.1 points (40.5 percent field goal shooting), 3.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds a game.
At the very least, a full summer of working on his body and jump shot with Hanlen should result in Fultz being even more aggressive going to the basket and connecting on his free throws (47.6 percent a season ago). Assuming Brett Brown doesn’t tinker with his starting rotation, a boost in those areas could put 20-year-old Fultz in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year.
And if Hanlen’s words from this summer are true and he actually did turn Fultz back into the long-range threat he was at Washington, there is no reason the guard shouldn’t be in the mix for Most Improved Player.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, there are probably a handful of people who actually know what to expect from Fultz this season. Since trainer Hanlen has kept Fultz’s revamped jumper away from the cameras, training camp should be our first glimpse at his shot. Just like last season, there should be plenty of shaky video from reporters’ cell phones for fans to scrutinize.
Fultz’s stats last year are almost irrelevant when projecting how he’ll play this season. Sure, there were encouraging signs in the 14 regular-season games he played. His 3.17 assist-to-turnover ratio was impressive. He showed glimpses of his shifty, herky-jerky game. And he became the youngest player ever to record a triple-double in the NBA, highlighting his immense potential.
We know Fultz is talented enough to contribute for an NBA team with a broken shot. The question is what he brings to the table with a repaired shot.
It seems unlikely that Hanlen would have hyped up Fultz’s jumper as much as he has if Fultz wasn’t making dramatic improvements. Do I expect him to suddenly be a three-point marksman? No. But I’d be surprised if Fultz’s free throws or midrange jumpers are anywhere near as unsightly or hesitant as they were last season.
Fultz would likely have to be playing at a very high level to force his way into the Sixers’ starting lineup, since that unit was the highest-rated five-man group in the league last season. That said, he’s skilled enough to be a valuable, playmaking sixth or seven man this season, even if he isn’t quite at the stage where he can provide the requisite long-range shooting to regularly play together with Ben Simmons.