Utah Summer League

5 observations from Sixers' summer league opener: Bolden joins Fultz with strong debut

5 observations from Sixers' summer league opener: Bolden joins Fultz with strong debut

SALT LAKE CITY – It went down to the final seconds, but the Sixers were unable to top the Celtics in Markelle Fultz's debut. The Sixers fell, 89-88, Monday night at the Huntsman Center on the University of Utah campus despite 17 points from Fultz and 16 points from second-year wing Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.

Promising play from the Sixers' youthful draft picks has fans of the team feeling excited about greater things ahead after having been told to “Trust the Process” for the past few seasons. At one point in the first quarter, a few Sixers fans in attendance triumphantly chanted the phrase after their team scored a basket.

Here are five more observations from Monday's game:

1. Fultz tallied only one assist, but the box score doesn't do justice to his offensive impact (see game recap). Fultz made several critical shots and also enabled others to unfold through crisp passing that got the ball moving until it found the open man. Sixers summer league coach Billy Lange praised Fultz's unselfishness after the game and said that his teammates see him as humble and willing to give up the ball whenever it helps the team. He also made a couple highlight reel defensive plays (see story).

2. Luwawu-Cabarrot still has some work to do on his outside shot. The second-year wing shot just 1 of 9 from distance in 32 minutes. Those misfires left a blemish on an otherwise strong all-around performance.

3. Jonah Bolden offered instant energy off the bench on both ends of the court. Bolden totaled nine points, four rebounds and four blocked shots in 22 minutes. The Australian forward had enough hops on defense to carve himself out a bigger role as summer league progresses.

4. Boxing out on the glass needs to be a bigger emphasis for the Sixers. The Celtics finished with a 12-4 advantage in second-chance points on seven offensive rebounds. Overall, Boston had a 44-39 edge on the boards.

5. Who says summer league games can't be fun? The Sixers and Celtics combined for 11 lead changes and 10 ties. At one point in the third quarter, the Sixers led by 15 points while the Celtics led by as much as 10 in the first half.

Markelle Fultz eager to learn to play off the ball in Sixers' summer league debut

Markelle Fultz eager to learn to play off the ball in Sixers' summer league debut

Markelle Fultz’s first summer league experience will be twofold: get adjusted to running the floor in the NBA as well as playing off the ball. 

Fultz will not have a clear-cut role as the point guard in summer league action. The Sixers plan to pair him with Larry Drew II and play the two-guard at times.  

“There will be possessions where Markelle will be in the game with Larry Drew, who is a dominant ball-handler, and they're going to have to learn how to play with each other,” assistant coach and director of player development Billy Lange said. “Then there will be possessions when Markelle is probably the primary, or dominant, ball-handler.”

This pairing is practice for how Fultz could be used with Ben Simmons this coming season. The Sixers have not stamped off on Simmons’ exact role, whether it will be a true point guard or a forward that runs the point (see story). What they do know is, they envision Simmons being a “primary ball handler.” 

Fultz's ability to play without the ball is one of the reasons he fit so well into the Sixers' system and traded up to draft him first overall. Lange sees that need for versatility extending beyond Fultz’s pairing with Simmons. 

“It's important for him [to play off the ball] regardless of who he is on the court with, because if he has Joel [Embiid], Joel is going to want to touch the ball,” Lange said. “Dario [Saric] has shown himself able to initiate some offense. So regardless of the Ben-Markelle pairing, it's primarily how we play anyone with the ball. The ball really dictating the movement of the offense. He has to learn. Being with a guy like Ben that can handle it, it becomes really important that Markelle learns that balance.”

Fultz has been inquisitive in his first days with the Sixers and shown a willingness to study the game. He already has an idea of the adjustments he will have to make playing the two-guard. 

“Being ready, moving without the ball, not just ball watching,” Fultz said. “Being a point guard, you see stuff where a guy has the ball and you might want to say, 'Damn, I wish you made that pass.' But just always staying focused and moving without the ball.” 

Fultz is prepared to take on multiple roles. He played one through four in high school, and while he won’t be tasked with guarding power forwards in summer league, he will have to shift across the backcourt. 

“Being versatile is one of the things that I worked on so I can play more than one position,” Fultz said. “It's pretty cool. I can score the ball easy. I can get other people involved easier. It's just another part of the game that I'm learning to become the best player I can possibly be.”

The Sixers will open summer league action in Utah on Monday night against the Celtics. 

Markelle Fultz gains some NBA knowledge on 1st day of Sixers minicamp

Markelle Fultz gains some NBA knowledge on 1st day of Sixers minicamp

CAMDEN, N.J. — Before Markelle Fultz can succeed in the NBA, he has to learn about the NBA. He did that on the first day of Sixers minicamp on Thursday in preparation for summer league.

“What he really has is a humility to want to learn,” said Billy Lange, the Sixers' assistant coach and director of player development who also coaches in summer league. “He asks a lot of questions.”

Fultz’s basketball knowledge is deep. A player doesn’t become the No. 1 overall pick without a strong understanding of the game, especially not a point guard. Still, college — and only one year of it — is literally a whole different ballgame than the NBA.

“I just want to be the best player I can be,” Fultz said. “In order to do that, I’ve got to learn the plays to the best of my ability. If I don’t know something, I’m not hesitating to ask a question.”

The Sixers cited Fultz’s humility as a strong character trait during the draft process. The 19-year-old’s willingness to learn is key on a young team.

“A lot of times when guys come in and they’ve got his pedigree or his reputation, they’re afraid to ask what they might think are real simple and basic questions,” Lange said. “But regardless of who the coach was, he was eager to want to learn, come up and make sure he could find a way to fit in. It’s going to be exciting to coach him over the next few weeks.”

Lange said Fultz inquired about plays, where he should be on the court after a pass and what he should be looking for from his teammates. Lange also praised Fultz’s ability to translate plays drawn up on the whiteboard into the scrimmages.

Fultz will put this knowledge to use over the next two weeks in summer league action. He said he wants to improve all areas of his game during this first taste of NBA competition.

“Everything,” Fultz said. “From the fundamentals all the way up to learning the defense, how we’re going to play defense. Offensively, learning the players and their scoring areas.”

Fultz shot around with Joel Embiid, Robert Covington and Nik Stauskas at the end of minicamp. (The current Sixers players except for Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Alex Poythress watched the scrimmages but did not participate in them.) Fultz is looking forward to building a chemistry with his teammates before the start of the season. 

“I like his game,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot, who is ready to lead the Sixers' summer league squad. “He’s crafty. He can handle the ball, run the court, pass the ball, finish at the rim, shoot the ball. I look forward to playing with him.”

Fultz played 5-on-5 on Thursday for the first time in what felt like "forever" to him. Whether it is this week in minicamp or next month in summer league, later this year in training camp or the regular season, Fultz could be a target of opponents who want to prove themselves against the No. 1 pick. Fultz is ready and welcomes it.

"Everybody in here is competitive," Fultz said. "No matter if I was the first pick or the last pick in the draft, everybody’s going to come out and compete. I would hope that everybody would give me their best shot because I want to get better myself and I’m going to give my best shot to everybody else."