Markelle Fultz will lead Philadelphia 76ers in key games

The Philadelphia 76ers lost to Indiana on Tuesday and narrowly escaped Brooklyn on Friday. When Markelle Fultz plays, he’ll change those outcomes for the better.

Two of the Philadelphia 76ers‘ last three games were too close for comfort. Last Tuesday, the Sixers dropped a must-win game to the Indiana Pacers, 101-98, and barely beat the Brooklyn Nets, seeded 13th in the Eastern Conference, by a score of 120-116.

Turnovers and poor guard play were at the heart of those disappointing results, and Markelle Fultz‘s return will turn those close games into easy wins.

On Tuesday against the Pacers, the Sixers turned the ball over 21 times. Sure, Robert Covington held All-Star guard Victor Oladipo to just 11 points in 33 minutes, but had Philly turned the ball over 18 times instead of 21, they would have won the game and moved into a better spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

A professional basketball team cannot expect to win a game where they give the ball away 21 times.

At the moment, Ben Simmons averages 3.5 turnovers per game. Fultz averaged 3.2 per game at Washington. Those numbers don’t make any fans think of all-world efficiency, but if the two split time at the point, the two will share the stress and mental toll of running the offense.

That strategy will lessen turnovers and let each of them get a mental rest. Brett Brown could spot their minutes so one of Simmons or Fultz is on the floor at all times, meaning a great scorer will always be available.

Additionally, Fultz’s presence will give the Philadelphia 76ers the inside-outside threat they have needed all year. On Friday against the Nets, Brown rarely let Joel Embiid isolate his defender in the post and do what he does best.

Instead, the coach had Embiid get the ball either at the top of the key or on the baseline, making him face up when down low or play like a guard. The addition of Markelle will alleviate Embiid of his de facto guard duties and let him play with his back to the basket more often.

Another perk of Fultz’s return, whenever that may come, is that if he and J.J. Redick share the floor, space will open up for Ben Simmons to drive into. Fultz’s jumper looks normal again, and if he can hit threes at a similar rate to his 41.3 percent three-point field goal rate at Washington, he and Ben Simmons will complement each other perfectly.

Philadelphia fans have familiarized themselves with blown leads and big runs by opponents, but Fultz’s driving and shooting prowess should help him break up momentum going against the 76ers. His three-level scoring aptitude makes him the go-to guy when his team plays like the basket has a lid on it.

The Sixers drafted the 19-year-old because of his ability to score from all three levels offensively, yet his defensive prowess makes Sixers fans even more desperate for his return. Philly has trouble defending star guards, and Fultz’s 7-foot wingspan and above-average athleticism make him a prime candidate to shut down opponents’ lead guards.

He stole the ball an impressive 1.6 times per game in college and blocked 1.2 shots per game, indicating how capable he is of playing strong defense.

Fultz’s return might happen next week, but it is just as likely that it doesn’t come until the beginning of the 2018-19 season. As long as his jump shot returns to its best, the Maryland native will live up to the hype he got as he came into the league.

Bryan Colangelo and Brett Brown made him the top overall pick in 2017 for his versatile skill set, and if he spreads the floor and keeps defenses guessing, Philly will end up with the player they thought they were getting when the Sixers took him.