What to make of Markelle Fultz’s first game back

Markelle Fultz | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by David Dowt/NBAE via Getty Images)
Markelle Fultz | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by David Dowt/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Markelle Fultz had some great moments in his return to action, but what does it all mean for the Philadelphia 76ers?

Going into Monday’s game, the general feeling was that Markelle Fultz wouldn’t return until next season. Brett Brown said the final decision was on Fultz, but not many Philadelphia 76ers fans actually expected him on the floor this soon.

That’s what made Brett Brown’s announcement so surprising. It also sparked one of the best feel good stories in the league, with Fultz — after all he has gone through over the past five months — showing flashes of brilliance in his sudden return to action.

In just 14 minutes as Ben Simmons‘ backup, Fultz tallied 10 points, four rebounds and eight assists while limiting his turnovers to one.

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As somebody whose talent has never been a topic of debate, it was nice to see Fultz make an immediate impact. Even with some of the glaring holes in his game, he looks like somebody who can contribute in a playoff setting. He might not get that opportunity, but his ability to break down the defense and generate offense is something the Sixers’ second unit has lacked all season.

The good, the bad, and the work-in-progress

Fultz did a lot of good things for a 19-year-old rookie who hasn’t seen the floor in 68 games. He made a defensive impact with his length and flashed some serious brilliance with his passes. Even if his shots weren’t falling, the confidence he had taking them was an overwhelming positive (5-13 from the field).

His court vision was always one of Fultz’s best traits at Washington. His unique body control and ability to get to the rim was coupled by a high basketball I.Q. and an impressive ability to pass teammates open.

That showed with eight assists in a 14-minute stretch, something that’s tough to accomplish when you’re also searching for your own shot as often as Fultz did. He’s a gifted passer, which might be enough to make him a valuable cog down the stretch.

As for Fultz’s scoring, he’s still rusty. His shot release is slow, which is why Mason Plumlee was able to close out and get a hand on Fultz’s shot a couple of times. His finishing isn’t quite where it was in college either, but that’s normal with rookie guards who are still adjusting to the speed of NBA basketball.

Once Fultz gets more comfortable with NBA athletes and understands how to pick and choose his spots, he should trade in some of those blocked shots and missed layups for converted baskets.

He also MADE TWO JUMPERS late in the fourth quarter, meaning he pulled up from outside the painted area and the ball went through the net. Those pull-ups also came off of slick hesitation moves, which might lead one to call them a “hesi pull-up jimbo”.

We haven’t seen him shoot threes or free throws and his release isn’t perfect, but we’re already seeing some significant progress. That’s huge.

Also, for somebody in his situation, eight assists to one turnover is a pretty impressive ratio.

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What to expect moving forward

I’m not sure if Fultz can play in the playoffs. That’s up for debate and we’ll probably get a better sense of where he stands over the next nine games. He knows his way around the basketball and his talent is evident, though.

Even without a reliable jumper, there’s a chance that his playmaking warrants putting him on the floor — at least for short bursts of time — once the postseason rolls around. Simmons’ minutes should increase in the playoffs, though, and most of Fultz’s playing time will likely come in his absence.

In the end, we’ll probably see a lot more of what we saw Monday night over the season’s final weeks. Fultz will have some promising flashes and moments where he looks out of sync. That’s not bad, it’s just the nature of being a rookie in the NBA.

Next: The debut of the real Markelle Fultz

As things tend to do around here, it comes down to trusting the process and keeping the proper long-term perspective.