Markelle Fultz flexed his jump shot in the Philadelphia 76ers’ preseason win over the Orlando Magic. We know he can shoot, so what role will he play?
Watching Markelle Fultz hit slightly irresponsible early shot clock jumpers against a fairly dreadful Orlando Magic team was like watching a child take his or her first steps. He had fought all sorts of battles over the course of the past year, and seeing him back at his best not only made fans feel happy for him, but now that we know he can shoot, things look a lot more positive for the upcoming season.
Fultz was supposed to be the missing piece of the Process puzzle, but man plans and God, or whatever higher power(s) you may or may not believe in, laughs. The Philadelphia 76ers had desperately needed a secondary ball handler in the rotation who could score from all three levels and defend. A year later, the kid proved he will be the guy the team thought they drafted with the top pick.
The comboguard’s versatility makes it hard for Brett Brown to limit him to a single role within the Sixers’ offense. As of now, it’s clear that Brown will not let Ben Simmons affect Fultz the way LeBron James affected Kevin Love: he won’t slowly morph into merely a catch-and-shoot threat. Simmons will still initiate the offense for the most part, but Fultz’s presence will let the 6-foot-10 playmaker go off the ball and post up or set an off-ball screen.
So far in the preseason, Fultz has started all three games, dropping 14, 12 points and four points against Melbourne United, the Orlando Magic and the Dallas Mavericks, respectively. Brown has utilized his scoring ability as a complement to Simmons’ passing ability, and the increase in confidence in his jumper that Fultz showed between his first and second preseason games should reassure Sixers fans of his potential and ability to fit next to the Australian Magic Johnson.
He put made one of four three-point attempts against the Magic, but the four attempts show he has enough confidence to not hesitate when pulling the trigger on outside shots. He won’t hit as high a percentage as J.J. Redick, the player he pushed out of the starting five, but he has so many for facets to his game compared to the three-point specialist that the sacrifice is worth it.
Additionally, Brown gave the Washington product plenty of time to act as the chief creator in the offense. The coach spotted minutes so Fultz and Simmons did not share the court the whole time, giving Fultz many chances to run the second unit consisting of J.J. Redick, Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala, and Amir Johnson, for the most part. Four of those five players are new additions to the team, and that will make a huge difference after the team subjected its fans to countless blown third quarter leads last season.
In that lineup, Fultz is the only reliable ball handler, which means he will have to fill a playmaking role while Simmons sits. He has shown the ability to initiate the offense, particularly in the couple games he played at the end of last season when he had no confidence in his shot. I
n back-to-back games in March, he dished out seven and eight assists against the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks respectively, and he only played 14 minutes in both of those games. He also put up 10 assists in his 25-minute triple-double in the last game against the season when the Philadelphia 76ers played the Milwaukee Bucks.
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Former point guard Landry Shamet has received decent playing time this preseason, but the team drafted him to play a spot-up shooter role like J.J. Redick does. The Wichita State product played point guard in college, but he does not have the athleticism, handles, or playmaking ability to be the primary ball handler for the second unit.
Brown has made it apparent that he will keep at least one of Simmons and Fultz on the floor for most of the game. Brown has gone for a deep rotation since it’s the preseason, so fans will have to wait to see how the coach spots minutes and makes lineups combining starters and bench players.
Fultz will have to be the primary playmaker when Brown brings players off the bench to play with him, so he will constantly switch between a scoring and a facilitating role. Watching him go between those jobs throughout the season will prove to the league that he has all the skills needed to become one of the best guards in the NBA.
He has shown plenty of confidence in his shot this preseason, and he already looks comfortable switching roles during games.