Here’s a clip of Markelle Fultz making an entry pass to Dario Saric during the Sixers’ intrasquad scrimmage at the Palestra on Sunday. Watch it, and tell me if you notice anything peculiar.
It’s a nice pass, but let’s pause it before Saric flashes backdoor.
Look at how far off the ball Jerryd Bayless is playing. Bayless is the guy in sweatpants sagging below the foul line.
Here’s another one:
Again, it’s a perfectly fine pass. But note Bayless’ position in the defensive shell. Fultz has another wide-open look at the basket. The thought of shooting never enters his mind. It’s something I noticed throughout Sunday’s scrimmage, but I didn’t really make a significant note of it until after the game was over and somebody asked Brett Brown about some mechanical changes Fultz had made to his jumper, and Brown responded by acknowledging that the rookie’s shot will be a point of emphasis in practice in the coming weeks.
Reporter: Are you comfortable with where his shot is at?
Brown: No, and so we’re gonna get back on track. His heart is in the right place. All by himself, he pivoted out over the summer and tried to make it better and tweak it, and he’s in a place right now where we’re gonna try to remind him where his shot was and try to bring that back into probably more a tighter shot, bring his release point down a little bit, bring the ball closer to his body. We have a Team Markelle all around him to help him, and he’s gonna be just fine.
Watching some video of Fultz at Washington and during the summer league, I don’t know if it’s fair to say that he has completely renovated his shot. It looks to me as if he’s trying to get his release point higher, and make the overall release faster, so that he can better get his shot off over the longer defenders he’ll face at the NBA level. But the speed and trajectory of his jumper don’t matter much if he’s not confident enough to use it.
In Sunday’s scrimmage, I counted Fultz as taking five shots, three of them jumpers inside 16 feet, including two from the elbow, one of which he made. He did not attempt a three-pointer.
By no means was Sunday a dress rehearsal for the season. Again, Bayless was wearing sweatpants, and Fultz was wearing long sleeves beneath his jersey. We can break down what we saw, but we can’t assume that it is an indication of what the Sixers have been seeing behind closed doors in practice.
At the same time, it is fair to remind ourselves that Fultz’s ability as a shooter increases in significance when he is on the court with Ben Simmons (he spent much of the early part of the game guarding Simmons, but switched teams toward the end and spent some time on the court with him). Everything we saw out of Simmons on Sunday suggests that Brown knew what he was doing when he decided that the 2016 No. 1 overall pick was going to be his primary ballhandler. His ability to get to the basket off the dribble is remarkable for a guy who is 6-foot-10, and he has a natural back-to-the-basket game against smaller-bodied players. There was one sequence in which Fultz simply had to bail out once Simmons got the ball on the low block.
But Simmons needs the ball in his hands to draw a perimeter defender. Simmons working off the dribble isn’t a novelty. It’s going to be a fundamental piece of this team’s identity.
Yet on Sunday, Fultz was at his most impressive when he had the ball in his hands. His first couple of buckets came on drives in which he used his calm body control to navigate the paint and then used his solid lower half to give himself room to finish. On a number of occasions, he found a teammate off the drive to set up a wide-open look. He looked like a natural point guard.
But with Simmons on the court, the Sixers would seem to be at their best when they can space the court with a couple of guards who are knocking down shots. J.J. Redick and Jerryd Bayless are two guys who can do that. Along with T.J. McConnell, they figure to be drawing from the same pool of minutes as Fultz.
It’s going to be really interesting to see what kind of combinations Brown uses at the start of the season. Fultz’s outside shooting will be one variable to watch between now and then.