76ers

Markelle Fultz takes major step toward return

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Markelle Fultz takes major step toward return

CAMDEN, N.J. — Markelle Fultz took a key step in his return from injury Sunday.

The 2017 No. 1 pick went through full-contact 5-on-5 work in practice for the first time since being sidelined with a right shoulder injury. He participated in the “large majority” of the afternoon practice, according to Brett Brown. 

“I thought he looked good for not having done much obviously the past few months,” Brown said. 

Fultz was available for portions of practice, including transition defense, play calling and passing drills. In comparison to previous days, Fultz was available to “get up and down the floor in a more detailed, lengthy way,” Brown explained. 

Anytime Fultz’s recovery is mentioned, a question that follows is, ‘How did his shot look?’ Fultz’s form changed during the injury and has been in the spotlight as he makes his way back. Brown was encouraged by what he saw from the rookie on both ends of the floor. 

“I thought his rise up looked pretty good,” Brown said. “He didn’t shoot any threes. But I thought that thing, that skill that he has, I’ve said to everybody, it connects the dots. When you don’t have it, you realize it even more. He can create a shot for himself, he can create a shot for others, he’s got a lot of wiggle to his game. That was different. 

“He’s different than all of our players. So to watch him play in that environment and really wind him up defensively, because he’s got a long wingspan, was to me to the positive of the day.”

A date for Fultz’s return has yet to be determined. Brown does not think it will be the Sixers' next game, Wednesday against the Celtics abroad. The team will continue to monitor Fultz has he goes through the action like he did Sunday.

“I do not expect him to return to play in London, personally,” Brown said. “There’s no pre-ordained date. We’re not going to put ourselves in a box and declare a date. It doesn’t work like that. He will tell us as we watch his body react to the first kind of workout he’s had in, what, two months. There is no date."

Fultz has not played since Oct. 23 because of right shoulder soreness and scapular muscle imbalance. He received treatment with the Sixers and with Dr. Ben Kibler, Medical Director of the Shoulder Center of Kentucky at the Lexington Clinic to get back on the court.

“It’s great having him with the team,” Brown said. “He’s good people. He’s got a very charismatic way that he engages with the team and coaching staff. We’re all with him. He’s ours. We understand the responsibility to grow him and help him navigate a very unusual introduction to an NBA season … It was a great thing to have him compete, sweat, be around teammates.”

Joel Embiid did not practice Sunday because of back soreness.

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Richaun Holmes

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Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Richaun Holmes

Richaun Holmes

Position: Forward/center

Status for 2018-19: Club option that must be exercised by June 29 at $1,600,520

Holmes in 2017-18
The Sixers made it quite clear from the beginning of the season that they were going to opt for substance over flash at the backup center position. That meant Amir Johnson would receive the bulk of the playing time behind Joel Embiid instead of Holmes.

Sure, Holmes can be the prototypical spark off the bench that comes in throwing down monster dunks, grabbing boards and blocking shots. The 24-year-old can also miss reads on offense and lose his man for easy baskets on the defensive end.

Johnson is nowhere near the level of athlete as Holmes, but the veteran provided a steady approach to the game that Brett Brown favored for the Sixers.

So Holmes, who missed the first eight games of the season with a broken bone in his left wrist, was limited to a career-low 48 contests and saw his minutes dip from 20.9 a night one season ago to 15.5.

Not an ideal situation for a player with a club option on his contract for next season.

Signature game
Holmes had a string of games in mid-December when he put up big numbers, scoring in double figures six times in an eight-game stretch. However, those numbers proved pretty hollow as seven of those eight games resulted in losses.

Let’s go with Dec. 30 instead, a 107-102 road comeback over the Denver Nuggets. With Embiid sidelined, Holmes came off the bench to record 14 points, three rebounds, three assists and a block in 19 minutes before fouling out.

Looking ahead to 2018-19
Unlike T.J. McConnell, Holmes didn’t get verbal confirmation that his option would be picked up from team president Bryan Colangelo at end-of-season press conferences.

While it seems unlikely the Sixers will bring back Johnson at a similar salary to what he made last season, the organization will likely see what else is available on the backup big man market.

Still, at 24 years old and with an extremely manageable salary of $1.6 million, Holmes should expect to be back with the Sixers next season. Anything after that will hinge on the amount of growth he shows in what could be his last chance with the team.

On Holmes
“It’s always a competition. Coach always lets it be known that we’re going to compete for spots, going to compete for playing time. Just have to come in next year ready to compete and ready to compete harder.”

- Holmes on whether he expects to be the backup center next season

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Markelle Fultz

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Markelle Fultz

Markelle Fultz

Position: Guard

Status for 2018-19: Second year of rookie contract for $8,339,880

Fultz in 2017-18
It’s not hyperbole to say Fultz had one of the most bizarre rookie seasons in NBA history. Let’s quickly run through the entire saga.

First, there was the mysteriously broken shot, the scapular imbalance in his right shoulder, the speculation about whether the injury led to the new shooting form or vice versa, and of course all the eyes on the brief videos of Fultz at practice, meticulously analyzing his jumper.

Then there was the surprise return on Mar. 26 against the Nuggets after missing the past 68 games, flashes of the handles and athleticism during the final 10 games of the regular season that compelled the Sixers to pick him No. 1, a chance to be part of the playoff rotation, and finally a return to the bench after three playoff games.

Got all that?

By the way, Fultz averaged 7.1 points, 3.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 14 regular-season games and posted 1.7 points, 1.7 assists and 1.0 rebound per game in his three postseason contests. Those stats obviously don’t tell his story.

Plenty of NBA players have had their rookie seasons derailed by injury, demonstrated flawed shooting mechanics, faced constant scrutiny from fans and media, and given glimpses of their potential. Until Fultz, nobody had combined all those ingredients into a single, surreal season.

Signature game
Fultz made history in the season finale on Apr. 12, a 130-95 win over the Bucks. With 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, he became, at 19 years and 317 days old, the youngest player in the NBA to ever record a triple-double.

After securing the accomplishment late with his 10th rebound, Fultz was immediately mobbed by his teammates and then doused with a unique cocktail of strawberry milk, chocolate milk and water afterwards in the locker room celebration.

That night, you saw Fultz’s immense potential. You also felt the human side of his odyssey and saw how much joy his teammates took from his achievement.

Looking ahead to 2018-19
Until Fultz looks comfortable with his jumper, there’s going to be plenty of scrutiny on his shot. He shot 19 for 75 (25.3 percent) from three feet and out and made only 2 of 8 attempts from further than 15 feet.

Fultz and the team haven’t decided yet whether he’ll play in summer league, but that’s a possibility. It could be a good chance for Fultz to get some more time on the court and continue regaining his confidence, and his jumper as well.

While Fultz’s name will probably be tossed around by outsiders as a possible trade piece, it doesn’t seem like potential trade partners would place a very high value on a player with 14 games of NBA experience and a suspect shot. It also would be a huge surprise to see the Sixers give up on their No. 1 pick and a player with Fultz's natural ability after one season. They'll almost certainly give him ample opportunity to show why they took him No. 1. 

On Fultz
“I’ve been going through stuff like this my whole life really, going against the odds and a whole bunch of outside noise. I don’t really look to it. I’m with my team, I’m with family, and that’s all I really care about. All the other stuff doesn’t really matter to me on what other people think or what other people have to say. I’m just worried about how my team’s doing, how my coaches and teammates look at me, and how I look at myself.”

- Fultz on dealing with outside noise at his end-of-season press conference on May 10