76ers

Markelle Fultz stock watch: Yet another weird week

Markelle Fultz stock watch: Yet another weird week

In a season full of weird weeks, the last one may have been the weirdest for Markelle Fultz. 

With the arrival of Jimmy Butler, Fultz lost his spot in the starting lineup. As Brett Brown stated, it’s nothing that Fultz did wrong, it’s a matter of having a superstar player like Butler and using the team’s optimum starting five.

If anything, this move could benefit Fultz in the long run. Instead of trying to fit on the court with Ben Simmons, he’s now just leading the second unit and playing with the ball in his hands. 

Stat-wise, there’s nothing that will blow you away. He averaged 6.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 19.8 minutes a night in four games. He shot 44 percent from the field, which is fine for a perimeter player.

The inconsistent shot is maddening on a couple fronts. A few times last week he came off screens and took confident mid-range jumpers that he buried. Then he got to the free throw line and I have no idea what happened. 

In Miami, the now infamous pump fake free throw took place. There had been a hitch over the past couple games that culminated in that attempt. Fultz said the shot slipped but it’s hard to buy that. Witnessing that shot, I just plain felt bad for Fultz. We all saw the work he put in during the offseason and to be scrutinized for that one weird shot is rough.

On Friday vs. Utah, he revealed an odd juggle as he raised the ball up to his release point. A couple of the shots looked better and it clearly eliminated the hitch from his shot. The difficult thing will be repeating that motion.

It's a little disappointing that Fultz hasn't taken a three since Oct. 30 in Toronto. He hasn't taken a jumper outside of the mid-range since that ugly jumper in Brooklyn on Nov. 4.

Fultz has said it’s a “trial and error” thing. There’s nothing wrong with that. The concern would be if Fultz kept struggling and was too stubborn to fix the issues. The kid has at least proven to be coachable and willing to work. That’s no small thing.

He’s also shown he’s willing to fight and scrap on the floor. This is just one example of plays he’s made this season where he’s hustled and earned his team an extra possession.

What also makes watching Fultz struggle with his shot difficult is how much he’s improved in other areas. Defensively, he’s already grown by leaps and bounds from the first game of the season. He’s doing such a better job physically and mentally. His on-the-ball defense is a little inconsistent but he’s just 20. If he ever figures out how to use his length and athleticism more on that end, he could be special defensively.

Offensively, he continues to be aggressive in getting to the basket. The most impressive thing I’ve noticed is how he takes on elite shot blockers. You’re told as a driver to go straight into the shot blocker’s chest. Fultz did that twice against reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. One drive he finished, and he forced Gobert into a foul on the other.

You see the work, you see the progress. You just have to hope it all comes together one day.

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Sixers vs. Blazers: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

Sixers vs. Blazers: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

The Sixers (38-21) match up against the Portland Trail Blazers (35-23) on Saturday afternoon. Both of these teams look very different since their last meeting in Portland back on Dec. 30, where the Blazers steamrolled the Sixers, 129-95.

Here are the essentials for the Saturday matinee:

• When: 1 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m.
• Where: Wells Fargo Center 
• Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
• Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch.

Bobi

One of the things that remains the same is the Sixers are without Joel Embiid, who is resting with left knee soreness. But this time around, the Sixers have Boban Marjanovic, who is expected to start in his place. In Thursday night’s win over Miami, Marjanovic finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Brown said his tolerance level is "wide" with Marjanovic, as they best figure out how to utilize him in the rotation. The biggest challenge is when opponents go small and are effective in pick-and-roll situations (as the Blazers are). Saturday will be another test.

Twin towers

Without Embiid in the lineup, the Sixers will have their hands full down low, as Enes Kanter made his Blazers debut on Thursday night against the Nets. Kanter finished with 18 points and nine rebounds in 20 minutes, backing up Jusuf Nurkic, who recorded 27 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Jonah Bolden, who finished scoreless in his 15 minutes Thursday night, will have another opportunity to show what he can do on Saturday.

Tobi vs. Blazers

It appears that Tobias Harris likes matching up against Portland. In his last two games against the Blazers while a member of the Clippers, Harris averaged 36.5 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 66.1 percent. Not too shabby.

Might he go off again on Saturday?

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Why Sixers feel well-equipped to deal with unique Zhaire Smith situation

Why Sixers feel well-equipped to deal with unique Zhaire Smith situation

CAMDEN, N.J. — Brett Brown knows all about lingering injuries, hazy timelines and young, talented players working their way back into game shape.

Zhaire Smith’s situation — while certainly unusual, with the added layer of medical complications stemming from an allergic reaction — is not foreign to him.

With the Blue Coats set to face the Maine Red Claws on Friday night, Smith took part in the Sixers’ light, early-afternoon practice. It was his second official practice with the team. He was assigned to the Blue Coats on Jan. 24 and has been primarily practicing and working out in Delaware. 

“At the start, he did some low-minute cardio,” Brown said. "It’s great to see him sort of run around. … There is a bounce. There really is a bounce. He looks good physically. When that translates into him playing G-League-type stuff, I still don’t have any comment on that. But it’s great to see him run around.”

Smith, acquired by the Sixers in a draft-night trade with the Suns, suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot in August, then had a serious scare with an allergic reaction to sesame, per a team source, a previously undiscovered allergy (see story). He lost significant weight as a result. 

While general manager Elton Brand said on Feb. 7 the Sixers’ moves at the trade deadline did not alter his expectation that Smith would play this season, Brown has been more cautious with his public statements.

Given the Sixers’ recent history, you can understand why he wouldn’t expect a rapid recovery.

What I do have confidence in, and it’s not for a great reason, is we have so much practice over the years with having injured players be out for a significant amount of time. I think that historically we’ve gotten better. We’ve learned from back in the day when we had — pick ‘em — Nerlens [Noel] and Joel [Embiid] and keep on going, Jahlil [Okafor] for that period, and Markelle [Fultz] — just on and on and on and on about long — Ben Simmons — long injuries. I feel like Zhaire has reaped the benefit of studied work, thoughtful work on how do people learn, what’s the environment that can still inspire and educate as there’s clearly disappointment on not being able to play basketball. … How much of that do you feel like he’s absorbed? It’s hard to guess. I think you do know when you start seeing him play. 

Unlike the names Brown mentioned, Smith has spent time with the Blue Coats. It’s a resource the Sixers don’t want to overuse, but for a player like Smith with a raw offensive game who played power forward at Texas Tech, time practicing and playing in the G-League makes sense. 

“We’ve learned that bouncing back and forth is not the way to do it,” Brown said.

Yet Furkan Korkmaz yo-yoed between Delaware and Philadelphia plenty last season. Jonah Bolden has gone up and down a few times this season. 

Brown said it’s ideal for a player to have at least two consecutive weeks with one team, either the Blue Coats or the Sixers, though he treats each player’s situation differently.

Smith is a unique case, but for a team that’s dealt with injury after injury after injury to its rookies, he’s not an unprecedented one.

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