When Markelle Fultz rose up to take a 13-foot jumper with 9:18 left in the second quarter, the ball seemed to hang on the rim forever.
When it finally tickled the twine, the crowd at Wells Fargo Center erupted.
For context, this place was loud when Meek Mill, fresh out of prison, came out to ring the bell before a Sixers’ playoff game. The applause for Fultz’s first NBA three in the fourth quarter Thursday actually rivaled that.
Fultz led the team with 15 shots but made just five. Does that type of performance deserve that kind of reaction from the fans? Absolutely.
The irony in all of this is that Philly fans are constantly chided for being too hard on coaches and players. Whether it’s #FireBrett or the super lazy “Robert Covington hasn’t hit a shot since he got his extension” narrative, the fans here can be brutal.
But they got it right here. After I sent out a tweet about the reaction to Fultz’s 13-foot hesi-pull-up jimbo, I got a response that the fan reaction “came off desperate.” Hell yeah, it’s desperate.
In the NBA you need stars — generally at least three. With Joel Embiid emerging into an MVP candidate and Ben Simmons likely to get his first All-Star nod, fans are desperate for Fultz to complete the triumvirate. We all know the background up until this point. We know what the Sixers gave up to get him at No. 1, we know Jayson Tatum looks like a star and that Fultz’s confidence needs a boost.
We all focus on the jumper and believe me, I get it. If Fultz is going to play big minutes with Embiid and Simmons, he needs defenses to respect him from distance. He doesn’t need to become JJ Redick, but if he can just shoot league average (around 35 percent) that should be enough.
He has so many other tricks in his bag. With a team that’s turned the ball over at an alarming rate during Brett Brown’s tenure, there’s no doubt value in the way Fultz takes care of the basketball. Fultz had five assists to just one turnover last night. Per Brian Seltzer of Sixers.com, in the 19 games since Fultz returned to the lineup last March, he’s posted 58 assists to just 16 turnovers. That’s good for a 3.625 ratio. That figure would be among the league leaders if it held for an entire season.
And these aren’t your garden variety assists either. Check out this beauty.
From the post, he puts a pass through the legs of Wendell Carter Jr. for an Amir Johnson layup.
Joel Embiid echoed that sentiment to reporters after the game.
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.
As much of what Fultz went through he attributes to his shoulder injury, there’s no doubt he also needed to get his swagger back. He’s still got a long ways to go, but feeling confident enough to jack 15 shots — and getting cheered for it — is a pretty good start.
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