Ben Simmons had a triple-double. Joel Embiid scored 30 points. But Markelle Fultz took the most shots — including his first made regular-season three-pointer — and that’s what made his head coach the happiest.
“He ended up taking the most shots out of anybody on our team,” Brett Brown said Thursday night after the Sixers’ 127-108 home-opening win (see observations), “which, in itself, is to me a statement. … But I say that as a complete positive. I felt when he was shooting the ball, they kept going under middle pick-and-rolls. He shot it to mean it, he didn’t look afraid of anything.
“He missed the shots, but they looked good, and I think in general, we played him quite a bit of minutes, he took the most shots out of anybody on the team, I thought his defense was very good. It’s a big night for that young man.”
If you didn’t watch the game, you might think Brown was talking about a player who scored 20 points and knocked down a few clutch shots. Fultz shot 5 for 15 with 12 points.
Of course it’s not just as simple as the numbers with Fultz. As Brown said, the fact that Fultz was at least willing to take the jumpers the Bulls were giving him is important. He’s not the rookie whose rare attempted jumpers were broken, clunky ordeals that never had a real chance of going in.
On a human level, it’s easy to root for Fultz, to urge him to shoot and go crazy when he knocks one down from long range.
“Anytime you work really, really hard for something, it just makes the reward that much better,” Fultz said. “When you finally get the results you’ve been working hard for, it’s just that much better. So for me, it’s just more fire to work even harder and keep on improving.”
On a basketball level, the questions about Fultz and his jumper didn’t disappear the instant he hit that three-pointer. He made 3 of 11 jumpers (one a half-court heave at the end of the third period) against a bad defensive team who dared him to shoot, again and again. Seven of his 12 points came in the fourth quarter, after the Sixers had already sealed a win. This is nothing close to the player the Sixers thought they took with the No. 1 pick.
It will take a lot more than one made three-pointer for defenses to stop sagging off Fultz. But the Sixers believe that, over time, he’ll knock down enough jumpers that giving him space is no longer the obvious scouting report.
“I want him to be confident,” Brown said. “I want him finding some level of swagger. I’ll try to get him the ball and put him in middle pick-and-rolls and try to find a way to help him. Tonight I thought he helped himself, he took what the game gave him. Given the incredible sort of groundswell after one game, good for him.”
Embiid, the man whose 30 points and 12 rebounds were rendered a footnote, has faith in Fultz’s growth.
“It’s like what I’ve always said, he’s going to be really good,” Embiid said. “I know it. Everybody always gets excited when he shoots a three. He’s going to make those, he’s worked on his shot the whole summer, so that’s nothing to worry about. I think the way he can help us is just being a playmaker. When I’m on the floor with him I really feel comfortable. He really knows how to find guys and understands when someone needs the ball, that’s where he’s going to help us a lot.”
At some point, maybe the fans at the Wells Fargo Center won’t go wild every time Fultz takes a three. That day doesn't seem like it will come anytime soon.
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