How Sixers can minimize Markelle Fultz's growing pains

How Sixers can minimize Markelle Fultz's growing pains

Markelle Fultz’s first NBA start did not come in the easiest of circumstances — in the national spotlight, at TD Garden, against an excellent team who has the Sixers’ number. It’s not a huge shock that it didn’t go very well.

In the Sixers' 105-87 loss, Fultz posted five points on 2 for 7 shooting with three rebounds, two assists and three turnovers. He made one of three jumpers, with his longest attempt a miss from 17 feet out. 

While a lot of Fultz’s unimpressive game can be attributed to opening-night nerves and his apparent continued hesitancy to shoot from long range, his head coach didn’t do him any favors.

Heading into the regular season, Brown explained his plan to start Fultz and then use him off the bench in the second half was so he could “give him as many minutes as I can as a point guard.”

As for the concerns about having a non-shooter in Ben Simmons playing together with Fultz and his questionable jumper, Brown said, “It’s five minutes. I think it’s not as dramatic as sometimes people do.”

Both those thoughts made plenty of sense; Fultz is clearly best with the ball in his hands at this point in his development, so using him as a de facto second unit point guard in the second half sounded smart. And there didn’t seem to be much harm in the idea of pairing Fultz with Simmons for a few minutes at the start of the game and helping those two learn how to play together.

But Tuesday night, Fultz played 20 of his 24 minutes with Simmons. In the second half, Fultz played just three minutes, while T.J. McConnell got 15. 

Brown explained his usage of Fultz to reporters:

Our memories of T.J. in this building against Boston are strong. He had a hell of a series last time we were here. I think when you look at the volume of minutes Markelle ended up with, it’s kind of where I expected him to be at. I tried the best I could to get him minutes at the point guard when Ben went to the four.

That explanation seems to suggest Fultz’s limited second-half playing time was mostly a product of Brown wanting to use McConnell more against the Celtics, which is fair. Brown is also correct that Simmons saw significant minutes as a power forward next to Fultz, as the Sixers made a concerted effort to post up Simmons.

Still, Fultz wasn’t exactly put in positions tailor-made for his success. We all can see there are going to be growing pains as Fultz dives into his first full NBA season, but those pains can be mitigated by giving Fultz more opportunities to do what he does best right now — create off the dribble.

To make that happen, the Sixers can give Fultz some of the minutes McConnell played in the second half Tuesday night. They can also work to stagger Fultz and Simmons’ playing time more, which could mean taking Fultz out after about five minutes and giving him a stint at the point late in the first and early in the second quarter.

“Markelle is going to have a steady, slow growth,” Brown said. “Sometimes he’s going to be just incredible, sometimes he’s going to be part of the NBA at a very young age.”

If Brown sticks with the plan he originally outlined and makes it a priority to use Fultz as much as possible as a point guard, he should get more of the “incredible” Fultz and less of the passive kid reluctant to shoot outside the paint.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

How the Sixers are trying to help Tobias Harris snap out of it

How the Sixers are trying to help Tobias Harris snap out of it

They say that shooters shoot.

Tobias Harris has been shooting plenty — they just haven’t been going down.

After going 0 for 11 from three on Tuesday night against the Cavs, Harris went 0 for 3 and 3 of 13 overall in the Sixers’ loss to the Magic in Orlando Wednesday (see observations).

The last three Harris hit was in the first quarter of the Sixers’ loss in Phoenix on Nov. 4. He’s missed his last 23 attempts since.

When Harris was acquired from the Clippers last season, he was shooting 43.4 percent from downtown in a healthy sample size.

So what the heck is going on?

“I'm not making shots, I'm not in a rhythm,” Harris said to reporters postgame. “That's it. Obviously, it's easier said than done but I'm going to find my rhythm and once I do those shots are going to be there and they're going to be able to be made. Until then, I'll watch film and see the looks I can get, see the easy ones I can get to, but when they're not going for me, get to the free throw line. 

“In the fourth quarter I thought that was two questionable whistles, a travel and offensive [foul]. So those are two turnovers that kind of affected our fourth quarter. But I just gotta find a rhythm. That's it.”

On top of missing, Harris just looks indecisive. During early parts of the season, he appeared to be passing up open shots. In his pregame availability before Tuesday’s win, Brett Brown made a point to talk about needing Harris to have a scorer’s mentality.

Over the last two games, Harris seems like he doesn’t know when to shoot the basketball. After shooting so poorly from the outside against Cleveland, in Orlando he appeared to just get caught in between while trying to drive to the basket more.

It just seems like Harris is in his own head.

“I think it's just human nature,” Brown said. “He wants to please, he wants to shoot the ball, he wants to score, we need him to score.”

Harris is an easy target for fan ire. GM Elton Brand gave up an awful lot to get him before last year’s trade deadline. During the summer, the Sixers gave Harris a five-year, $180 million deal — the richest in franchise history.

But to his credit, Harris hasn’t made any excuses. He faced the music Wednesday night after not playing well and not feeling well.

Brown mentioned Tuesday that Harris had been dealing with an illness. Harris didn’t want to take the easy way out and attribute that to anything.

“When I get out there and play, I'm playing,” Harris said. “I'm under the weather, yeah, but if I get out there and play, I believe I can go.”

Forget the big contract and disappointing start for a second — Harris is a worker. He’s worked on his game tirelessly to rise to the level he did last season in L.A. During the offseason, he stepped up as a leader that all of his teammates are eager and willing to follow. He’s been depended upon by the young players and veterans alike.

Now, it may be Harris who needs their support.

“Tobias has had great looks and he's a great player, great shooter,” Ben Simmons said. “I mean, at times, everybody gets down when they're not playing their best game. They know that they can do better. But he's one of those guys. He's always positive. And we all believe in him.”

The Sixers’ road trip continues Friday with a date with the Thunder. Oklahoma City is the site of Harris’ finest game as a Sixer. On Feb. 28 of last year, Harris poured in 32 points and led a tough road win without Joel Embiid.

Maybe the memory of that game will spark something in Harris.

If that doesn't work, what else can you really say?

“Keep shooting,” Brown said. “Don't listen to any of you guys. Don't read anything. Keep shooting.”

After all, shooters shoot.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

NBC Sports Philadelphia/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Tobias Harris' struggles continuing, Ben Simmons' unwillingness to shoot the ball, and why Matisse Thybulle isn't seeing more playing time.

• Another rough night for Harris. What the heck is going on?

• Simmons was strong, but still refuses to shoot the basketball outside the paint.

• Should Thybulle be getting more minutes?

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers