76ers

Starting or not, Markelle Fultz needs to learn to play with Ben Simmons

Starting or not, Markelle Fultz needs to learn to play with Ben Simmons

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It was a curious decision when Brett Brown named Markelle Fultz a starter.

The Sixers had the most effective five-man lineup in the NBA when it came to their starting unit last season. JJ Redick, who enjoyed one of his best NBA campaigns, would be coming off the bench.

But lost in all of the debate over whether Fultz should start is that it really doesn’t matter. What matters more is his compatibility with one the team’s superstars in Ben Simmons.

If the Sixers are going to get to places they want to go, that duo will have to learn to coexist on the floor.

“What I’m trying to do is have it all,” Brown said postgame Monday. “You can play them a little bit together then separate them. Give one the ball and then the other person the ball. I’ve said quite candidly that Markelle is a point guard. And Ben is the Rookie of the Year as a point guard. We mix and match a little bit but it is a challenge.”

After a sluggish start in the Sixers’ 113-92 win over the Hawks at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations), Fultz flipped the switch during his second-half run off the bench. The numbers won’t tell the story (16 points on 7 of 16 shooting), but Fultz gave the team a nice jolt offensively in the second half.

Fultz nailed another three and recorded seven assists with just one turnover — he also caught another body (see video). Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce, a former Sixers assistant, opted to play way off Fultz, daring him to shoot. In the first half, it worked to perfection. Then Fultz hit a three, which seemed to open the floodgates.

What’s still a little discouraging is his play with Simmons. In over 75 minutes together this season, Fultz and Simmons have a net rating of minus-17.6. For those who don’t know much about analytics, I’ll break it down for you: It’s not good.

When Fultz was playing without Simmons in the second half, you saw an aggressive and decisive player. While starting the game with Simmons, not so much.

“Every time we get on the floor we’re trying to get more comfortable [together],” Fultz said. “We’ve only been out there together but so much. We’re taking it game by game and every time we get out there we’re looking forward to growing as a team, growing as teammates and getting better.” 

This relationship on the court still needs time to grow, but therein lies the problem. This isn’t “The Process” anymore. You can’t just roll with Fultz and Simmons and let them take their lumps.

This team has big aspirations. The Sixers won 52 games and a playoff series last season. They’ve made it clear that their goal as a team is to win a championship.

But getting to those heights probably doesn’t happen unless Fultz becomes the player he was drafted to be. It’s an unenviable task that Brown is now faced with.

“Although it’s early days, I’m aware of the numbers,” Brown said. “You could just keep burying your head in the sand and just keep doing it and doing it — you could do that. I choose to walk that line of trying to grow it and win. That’s part of my challenge.”

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6 takeaways from Sixers GM Elton Brand ahead of the 2019 NBA draft

6 takeaways from Sixers GM Elton Brand ahead of the 2019 NBA draft

Sixers GM Elton Brand spoke to reporters Tuesday ahead of the NBA draft Thursday night. Here are six takeaways including how close Brand thinks they are, "optionality" with five picks and more.

The agony of defeat

Any time you're not the last team standing at the end of the NBA season, it's not going to sit well. For Brand and the Sixers, watching the Toronto Raptors hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy stings a little more after taking them to seven games.

But Brand is looking ahead, and giving the reigning NBA champions their stiffest fight is only fueling him to make his team better.

"Hats off to the champs, but it just shows me that we were close," Brand said. "We are so close. So my goal this summer is to get better through the draft, through free agency, whatever we have to do and be able to compete again at that level. It definitely hurts. From the players to the coaches to my staff – we want to grow and we want to get better."

Embiid and Ben Simmons didn't take the loss well. Especially Embiid, who appeared to take all of the questions about his health and ability to play against Marc Gasol to heart.

Brand is confident his young All-Stars are prepared to use it all as motivation.

"A lot of promises, vows – it's raw. It hurts," Brand said. "You're passionate. 'I can't believe we lost like that.' They've been in the gym, they've been rehabbing, they've been working hard, so the goal is to just keep the momentum. How do we take that into the summer? But they've been executing their plans. They're still hungry. They still feel that pain to lose how they lost. As tough as it was losing like that, we're going to get better from it."

Character evaluations

Pre-draft workouts are a good opportunity for Brand and his staff to learn a little more about prospects. It gives them a chance to talk to the player 1-on-1 and see what they're all about. But it doesn't end there.

I don't want to give too much intel, but we talked to people that pick up their laundry," Brand said. "It's a whole range of people. From their coaches, their mom, their family, but we get specific intel, then we meet with them. It's different. It's like an interview. You're on your best behavior. So we try to just get to know them the best we can, know their personalities, talk to middle school coaches, high school coaches, just to be clear on what kind of person they are.

What kind of character are the Sixers are looking for?

"Tough, hard-nosed, respectful, wants to get better. Treat your teammates with respect. Younger players, we like a high IQ. A guy that knows how to play defense, make the right pass, take the shot when warranted and competitive. We want tough competitors that can think the game."

Feels like the first time

It's easy to forget that Brand wasn't named GM until after the draft last season. While he was part of the process, Brett Brown held the interim general manager title.

This year, Brand is running the show and will have final say.

"The first thing I learned is making a recommendation vs. making a call, there's a big difference," Brand said. "Under Bryan [Colangelo], it was, 'Oh yeah, that sounds good.' But now I'm making the call – that's a big difference. A lot of posturing going on. You talk to a team about future picks and it's like, 'Oh no, we don't want to give up futures.' But now as the draft comes along, getting calls like, 'Hey, would you consider it?' Similar to the trade deadline. Very similar to the trade deadline with everyone trying to get an angle and trying to get an advantage for their organization and their team."

With the team being so close and looking for guys that can contribute right away, Brand definitely understands the responsibility of being the one that pulls the trigger.

"It's definitely much more pressure than making a recommendation. Last year, I was just like, 'Yeah, this guy can shoot, I saw him in L.A. His change of motion, he can get to the rim. He has a short neck like me, but he's really taller.' Just whatever it is. But now I'm making that call, so there's more pressure to get it right, especially for the trajectory of our team, because we need young talent. Even if we do get to the championship level we aspire to, I don't want to fall off a cliff either. I want to have talent in the kiddies so they can grow and get better."

Optionality 

"Optionality" was a word former general manager Sam Hinkie used often and fondly during the days of "The Process," and it's one Brand returned to several times Tuesday when describing the Sixers' outlook heading into the draft. With five picks, it sounds like just about everything is a possibility.

Having the five picks, that gives us that optionality. If there's a player that we're targeting that looks like they could be available, we could move up. We could move back. We could move out. We could sell a pick. That's what's great about having those options. Regarding selling the picks, [it's a] possibility. There's some later picks that teams would pay for, and if we don't have anybody on our draft board that we want to grow with the Blue Coats or come to the G League, that's a possibility.

Because the Sixers have only four players guaranteed to be under contract next season and will need to commit a substantial amount of money should they wish to sign free agents Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, using four or even all five of the selections the team currently holds could be an appealing idea. That said, it's just one of many options on the table for what promises to be an eventful Thursday evening.

Looking for immediate contributors 

Unlike in previous years, when the Sixers were building for the future and willing to select developmental players, this draft is about snagging players who can help as rookies.

"We definitely are looking for players that can compete for a spot to be in our top-eight right now," Brand said.

That mindset has been reflected in the players the Sixers have brought in for pre-draft workouts – plenty of prospects in the 21 to 23-year-old range, with seasoned games and little projection required about their ability to play in the NBA. 

Senior director of scouting Vince Rozman has said the team is targeting "mature" players, which doesn't necessarily exclude one-and-done prospects. But, if there was any doubt, Brand made it clear Tuesday the Sixers are not going to place a high value on players with potential who lack an NBA-ready skill. 

"You're looking for a guy that can contribute right now," Brand said, "which starts with a specific skill where Brett [Brown] can look down that bench and say, 'All right, I need defense. … Oh, I need some shotmaking. The defense might not be there or something else might not be there, but I know I can get this from this rookie.' Just something that they can contribute right away and they might not be elite at it, but they'll be good at it."

Willing to wait

Brand and the Sixers have been consistent over the last five weeks in describing the type of players they'll be targeting in the draft.

However, Brand clarified Tuesday that the team won't automatically eliminate players who can't contribute immediately, whether that's because they need more time to develop overseas or because they're currently injured. 

"With the five picks, it depends on where – later in the second round, one of those picks, if the value proposition is there and you're like, 'OK, he has to rehab and get better,' you think of that because in two years, we're going to need talent. But the appetite to wait, it's all going to be determined on the clock and who the player is."

Nineteen-year-old Croatian forward Luka Samanic is one player who the Sixers might consider worth the wait if he's available late in the second round, though Samanic said at his pre-draft workout with the Sixers that he believes he's capable of playing in the NBA next season.

Auburn's Chuma Okeke, who tore his ACL during the NCAA Tournament, is one player who could slip in the draft because of his injury. His "3 and D" skills would seem to fit well on the Sixers. 

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2019 NBA draft profile: Why Sixers might want to keep Eric Paschall in town

usa_eric_paschall_villanova.jpg
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2019 NBA draft profile: Why Sixers might want to keep Eric Paschall in town

Position: Forward

Height: 6-8

Weight: 255

School: Villanova

Eric Paschall was an integral part of Villanova’s unprecedented success over the last four years. After transferring from Fordham, he redshirted during the Wildcats’ 2016 national championship season. His role gradually expanded within the Villanova program over the next three years. That culminated this past season with a First Team All-Big East selection.

Paschall averaged 16.5 points and 6.1 rebounds as a senior, establishing himself as a fringe first-round NBA Draft prospect. He’s a winning player — he enters the NBA with a pair of national championship rings and a 94-18 record in his three seasons on the court at Villanova.

He was overshadowed at times during his college career by the likes of Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo. But Paschall has proven he is capable of shining when the lights are brightest. His 24 points on 10 of 11 shooting against Kansas in the 2018 Final Four is one of the greatest single game performances in Villanova history. 

Strengths 

Versatility, athleticism and intangibles come to mind. Paschall will be able to play and defend multiple positions in the NBA. His perimeter shooting and passing ability should enable him to be utilized as a center in a small ball lineup, similar to how the Warriors use Draymond Green. 

Paschall’s strength and athleticism will serve him well on the defensive end of the floor. He has a sturdy frame and won’t be pushed around by too many NBA forwards. Paschall is also a tremendous finisher around the basket; he takes a backseat to no one when it comes to leaping ability. 

His mindset and work ethic may be his two greatest assets. Paschall is cut from the same cloth as former Villanova teammates Ryan Arcidiacono, Hart and Brunson, guys who were either drafted late in the first round, early in the second round or in Arcidiacono’s case, weren’t drafted at all. They all worked themselves into valuable NBA contributors. It’s a safe bet that Paschall will do the same. 

Weaknesses 

Paschall needs to prove that he can be a consistent perimeter shooter at the NBA level. He was a streaky shooter in college, prone to cold stretches. His ballhandling remains a work in progress. Paschall handled the ball quite a bit in college but still has plenty of room for improvement in that area of his game.

Paschall’s age could work against him. He’ll be 23 in November. NBA evaluators tend to prefer younger prospects who they believe have greater “upside.”  

His advanced age for a prospect shouldn’t be seen as a hinderance or an indication of limited potential. Paschall is a mature and experienced player who will be ready to contribute immediately for whichever team drafts him.

Fit

Paschall would be a great addition to the 76ers’ roster. He was impressive during a workout for the team earlier this month. Paschall would be a solid complementary piece and would have no trouble accepting and playing a supporting role.

Whether the Sixers consider Paschall a possibility with the 24th pick remains to be seen. But he would be a terrific option if he’s still available in the second round. 

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