76ers

Markelle Fultz stock watch: Poor jumper overshadows solid week

Markelle Fultz stock watch: Poor jumper overshadows solid week

Every week this season, we’ll be taking a look at Markelle Fultz and how the 2017 No. 1 overall pick is progressing through his second NBA season.

Markelle Fultz had yet another weird, uneven week.

He had his best game of the season — maybe of his young career — but threw up maybe his worst shot attempt since early last season.

In games against the Hawks and Clippers this week, Fultz gave the Sixers a huge boost off the bench in the second half. They likely don’t beat L.A. without him. When the Clippers went ahead briefly in the third, the team went on a 10-2 run to reclaim the lead for good. Fultz had a hand in all 10 points, scoring six and assisting on a Mike Muscala four-point play.

The aggressiveness on his drives to the rim has been a welcome development.

The Sixers had a hard time dealing with the large human that is Boban Marjanovich when he started the second half for L.A. On the play above, Fultz does the exact right thing driving right at Marjanovic’s chest and finishing.

Another positive was his performance on the defensive end. Brett Brown pointed out after the win over the Clippers that Fultz was starting to play screens better, both physically and mentally. I also liked the way he competed against two physical, veteran guards in Patrick Beverly and Avery Bradley. 

Against the Pistons on Saturday, he had one of the finest defensive plays you’ll see.

What makes this even better is when you consider the opponent. In the overtime loss in Detroit, Brown sat Fultz in favor of T.J. McConnell for defense. Former Sixer Ish Smith was giving Fultz fits in that contest. On this play, Fultz wins the battle in a most impressive fashion.

Now we address the elephant in the room. In a game in which no Sixer played well, Fultz put up his worst shot attempt of the season.

There’s no way around it, it wasn’t pretty. The regression is odd because we’ve seen Fultz hit four threes this season and while the release was extremely long, the form looked OK. When you take a look at his first made three of the season compared to last night’s long two side by side, there’s a noticeable difference, especially in his lower body.

Everything looks better on the made one. The release looks smoother and even his body language was drastically different. He knew the shot last night was bad as soon as he let it go.

Maybe it’s tired legs playing four games in five nights … at least let’s hope that’s what it is.

The starting lineup featuring both Fultz and Ben Simmons continues to produce poor results as well. That two-man lineup has a -6.3 net rating (measuring the team’s point differential per 100 possessions). That’s with Joel Embiid being an absolute monster to start games with both of them on the floor. 

But this is the way Brown is choosing to go about it. I agreed with it when the season started, but as its progressed I’m beginning to turn to the other side. What’s more important than having Fultz and Simmons learn to play together is to get Fultz in a groove. And it appears the only way to do that is to put the ball in his hands.

Other than the two disastrous performances by the whole team in Toronto and Detroit, Fultz looked like a different player. He had a bounce to him and even his body language was better.

The effort, aggressiveness and defensive progress are great to see, but the image of that jumper is what will linger for the next few days.

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Joel Embiid's NBA All-Star Game shoes designed with help of kids from Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia

Joel Embiid's NBA All-Star Game shoes designed with help of kids from Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia

Joel Embiid made his second straight All-Star start on Sunday night in Charlotte. This time, he went all out with his footwear.

Embiid's UA Anatomix Spawn All-Star Game player exclusive shoes were designed by footwear customizer Dez Customz, who went to the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia for input from the kids.

The right shoe includes the Boys and Girls Club motto, "Great Futures Start Here." Per Under Armour, "the shoes feature Philadelphia landmarks and descriptors such as the City of Brotherly Love, the U.S. Constitution, LOVE Park, and more." And the initials of every kid who participated in "The Process" of creating the shoes are on the heels.

You can read about the shoes in more detail here

Here's a closer look. 

And here's Embiid with some of the kids who helped with the shoe design.


Photo Credit: Under Armour

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Sixers weekly observations: There's a snarling competitor under Joel Embiid's big smile

Sixers weekly observations: There's a snarling competitor under Joel Embiid's big smile

Joel Embiid is getting ready to start in his second straight All-Star Game, Ben Simmons is set to play in his first, and we have a fresh set of weekly observations to tide you over during this limbo without competitive basketball. 

• The playfulness and social media exploits sometimes obscure the fact that Joel Embiid competes.

Sure, he has off nights, but Embiid’s consistent effort, for a man of his size, is commendable. He’s played 54 games this season and scored in double-figures in all of them, with double-doubles in all but six.

It sounds basic enough — of course stars should play hard every night — but it’s not the reality of the NBA. Especially given his immense defensive responsibilities, you can’t begrudge Embiid the occasional “load management” day. In all honesty, he probably needs more. No disrespect to Boban Marjanovic and Jonah Bolden, but there’s a big drop-off at center when Embiid is out. Though he might not be the MVP, Embiid is up there in the literal sense of being most valuable to his team. 

His decision to lean into the microphone and end his press conference after another Sixers’ loss to the Celtics with, “The referees f------ sucked” wasn’t the most mature outlet for his frustration, but it was another sign of his snarling competitiveness. 

Embiid, though, is the rare superstar who usually has a smile in testy moments.

His comments after the Sixers’ blowout win over the Rockets on Jan. 22, in which he and James Harden each picked up technical fouls following a combative exchange in the second quarter, come to mind.

I was just walking back to my basket and I think [Harden] pushed my leg and naturally I’m going to react, and I did. We both got technical fouls and we move on. To me, I’m having fun. I’m always having fun and a lot of guys take it seriously. Especially when it comes to that, we just had one guy our last game that was acting crazy. But it’s fun to me. I love it. 

That guy who Embiid referred to as “acting crazy,” Russell Westbrook, is now his teammate on Team Giannis in the All-Star Game. It should be an interesting night, as should Feb. 28, when the Sixers play the Thunder in Oklahoma City. 

Lingering questions

The Sixers fell to the Celtics in the playoffs last season for plenty of reasons, among them an inability to take care of the ball, Simmons’ struggles, exemplary defense by Al Horford and Aron Baynes on Embiid, and Boston’s guards capitalizing on mismatches.

While the Sixers might be lucky enough to avoid the Celtics in the postseason, those are all issues which still be addressed. To Brett Brown and company’s credit, you sense they’re closer to having answers.

Simmons has gone from a subpar post player to one of the most efficient in the league, and he didn’t have a bad game last time out against Boston, with 16 points on 7 for 9 shooting, five assists, five rebounds and two steals. His free throw shooting (2 for 7 Tuesday vs. the Celtics) is still a concern.

Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris should remove some of the pressure on Embiid to dominate offensively every single game in a series. That said, sharper decision-making against double-teams by Embiid and, perhaps, creative movement around Embiid in the post — as opposed to standing around and watching him work — would be helpful.

Since the Butler trade, the Sixers are 26th in the NBA in turnovers (15.2 per game) and 22nd in turnover percentage (14.8 percent). Those numbers mean little out of context. When turnovers occur in the playoffs — ideally not in bunches, and not of the careless, unforced variety — is more important. 

And finally, you’d expect Jonathon Simmons, James Ennis and Mike Scott will boost the Sixers’ playoff defense, or at least make the team less vulnerable to mismatches. 

But 24 games isn’t much time to juggle experimentation and jostling for playoff positioning. It should be fun, at least for Joel Embiid. 

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