How the Sixers are keeping Markelle Fultz busy during recovery

How the Sixers are keeping Markelle Fultz busy during recovery

LOS ANGELES -- Markelle Fultz isn’t cleared to play basketball. As long as he’s around the Sixers, though, they are going to make him feel as involved as possible.

Fultz is traveling with the Sixers on their West Coast trip while he continues to rehab his right shoulder, which has sidelined him indefinitely because of soreness and scapular muscle imbalance. He’s not slated to be reevaluated for another week. In the meantime, coaches and teammates are keeping the 19-year-old No. 1 pick incorporated into the mix.

“Take whatever negative downtime they have that they’re not playing," Brett Brown said, "and also negative downtime that they surely have spiritually and emotionally because they’re just not playing, and try to make it the best we can.”

Fultz has been attending practices and shootarounds. He went through drills Saturday before the Sixers’ matchup against the Warriors, breaking a sweat while working on driving and finishing at the basket.

The Sixers have given Fultz assignments during the games. He is tasked with watching numerous elements on the floor from a distance. They hold him accountable outside the arena, too. As a guard in the Sixers’ system, Fultz could be asked to run the floor, which creates an even bigger need to keep up with the schemes.

“We challenge him a little bit,” Robert Covington said. “Even though he’s not playing, he still has to see what’s happening. He’s doing a good job. We ask at various times, on the bench, we catch him off guard. He handles them very well. He’s engaged even though he’s not on the court. One thing I can say is even though he’s not playing, he’s still learning a lot.”

The Sixers are no stranger to incorporating young, sidelined players into the team. They are faced with an injured rookie for the fifth straight year. Those who have been in his position know how it feels to be watching the action from afar. Joel Embiid, who missed his first two seasons because of foot injuries, stays closely connected with Fultz when they travel.

“We talk about basketball all the time,” Embiid said. “We’re always hanging out together. Everywhere we go, once we get to the hotel he’s probably going to come to my room and we’re going to play board games or video games.”

The Sixers will have a better sense of when Fultz can play once he is reevaluated, slated for approximately three weeks from his Oct. 29 injury announcement. Until then, they will ensure he is very much a part of the team.

“Just trying to make somebody feel good,” Brown said. “Make them feel prepared. Make them still feel loved.”

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

5 questions facing Sixers as NBA draft approaches

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5 questions facing Sixers as NBA draft approaches

The 2018 NBA draft takes place exactly four weeks from tonight — Thursday, June 21, in Brooklyn. For the first time since 2013, the 76ers do not have a top-three pick. 

But thanks to Sam Hinkie's masterful Michael Carter-Williams trade three years ago, they do have the 10th overall selection that originally belonged to the Lakers. It's a pick that carries all sorts of intrigue as draft night approaches. 

Here are five key questions surrounding the Sixers’ draft plans:

1. Will they keep the 10th pick?
I believe they will. There's been plenty of speculation that the 76ers could include the pick in a trade package to acquire a star player this offseason. Kawhi Leonard has been the most popular name. But all indications are that the Spurs will try to do everything they can to sign Leonard to a long-term max contract this summer despite the hard feelings stemming from Leonard's season-ending quad injury. 

I don't envision the Spurs changing their stance on this situation in the next four weeks. The 76ers could turn their attention elsewhere (Portland's C.J. McCollum comes to mind), but in the end, I think they hold onto the 10th pick and use it on a player they think would be a good complement to young stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. 

2. Which players are the most likely options at 10?
If Villanova's Mikal Bridges is still on the board, I'd take him in a heartbeat. He's a perfect fit for how the 76ers like to play. Bridges is a consistent threat from three-point range and would stretch the floor and create space for Simmons and Embiid to operate. Bridges is also extremely versatile defensively — able to guard point guards, shooting guards and small forwards. He'd also bring a winning mentality to the organization from his time at Villanova. 

The Sixers are plenty familiar with Bridges. He played 12 games in their home arena last season and GM Bryan Colangelo personally made the trip to Madison Square Garden to watch Bridges in the Big East Tournament in March. 

If Bridges isn't available (he's been linked to the Cavaliers at No. 8 and the Knicks at 9), expect the 76ers to take a long look at Michigan State's Miles Bridges. Kentucky's Kevin Knox is another potential option. 

3. Could Trae Young fall?
The chances are better than most people think. Young was the talk of college basketball for much of last season thanks to his elite shooting and playmaking abilities at Oklahoma. The Steph Curry comparisons have been flying around for a while now. Young isn't Curry but he is a dynamic offensive player who would provide instant energy on the offensive end.

Young's small frame and defensive shortcomings have caused his stock to drop over the last few weeks. There is a real possibility that he is still on the board when the 76ers are making the 10th pick. The question then becomes — would the Sixers take him? 

Assuming Markelle Fultz eventually becomes the player the 76ers hoped he would be, there wouldn't be much of a need for Young. But that Fultz assumption is a significant one at this point. Could the Sixers draft Young and hedge their bet that either he or Fultz develops into the dynamic backcourt piece that complements Simmons for the next decade?

Young's lack of size and defensive prowess would be minimized playing with Embiid and Simmons.

4. What are the 76ers’ options at 26?
A week ago, I would have suggested Villanova's Donte DiVincenzo. But the way his stock has been sky-rocketing following the combine, chances are he'll be off the board by the time the 26th pick is made. Depending on what the 76ers do with the 10th pick, more realistic options include Duke's Grayson Allen, Oregon's Troy Brown and Creighton's Khyri Thomas.

Allen is one of the most polarizing prospects in the draft, but he's worth serious consideration. He is an elite shooter and tested very well athletically at the combine.

5. What will they do with their 4 second-rounders?
They'll likely trade a few of them and/or use them to select players they plan on stashing overseas for a year or two. But there's always a handful of sleepers in the second round who develop into contributors at the NBA level. 

A few names to keep an eye on this year — West Virginia's Jevon Carter, Villanova's Omari Spellman, Kentucky's Hamidou Diallo and Kansas' Malik Newman.