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.
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