I, for one, cannot wait to see Markelle Fultz play.
The Sixers made Fultz the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft because he was, without question, the best player. They needed a guard who, optimally, could run a team and create his own shot. Ideally, it would be a taller player with a wide wing span and decent range. Defensive skills would be a bonus, but they always are with the one-and-dones.
Thanks to Tank-a-Palooza, and former GM Sam Hinkie’s past dealings, some luck, and a trade, they got what they needed: a 6-foot-5, change-of-pace shooter with a sweet handle and the wing span of a pterodactyl. At least, that’s what they had in July.
Come September, and through February — thanks to a shooting-form reset gone awry, an independent incident that resulted in an injury, psychological erosion, or some combination of all three — Fultz developed a shoulder injury that cost him all but four games. Faced with the likelihood that Fultz might not recover this season, the Sixers, sensibly, moved on from Fultz.
They should remain so.
Video evidence shot at practices and pregames and vague team statements indicate that Fultz might be healthy enough to play. He should not.
The team has formed an identity on both ends of the court. It has familiarized itself with its strengths and weaknesses. It understands what it can and cannot do.
It is senseless to insert a wild-card player who isn’t in game shape, who would need to dominate the ball on offense and who would attract the opposition’s best perimeter player when he plays defense. Such a move invites disappointment and frustration from every party: the kid, the fans, and, most importantly, the team. These Sixers got to 40 wins and tied for the No. 4 seed (pending the results of Wednesday’s Washington-San Antonio game) without Fultz. They’re on the brink of hosting a playoff series. They’ve won eight of their last 11 after Wednesday night’s win against Memphis. They need no savior.
Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo did well when he signed shooters Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli in February. He hired them to provide the scoring punch Fultz was supposed to supply. It’s working. They have a dozen games left after the Grizziles, and they’re cooking. Winning a playoff series doesn’t seem as absurd as it did a month ago.
There’s no doubt that coach Brett Brown could somehow make Fultz , to some extent, even if he isn’t in game shape, and even though he essentially has no NBA experience, and even though he is a defensive liability, and even though he will turn the ball over.
Brown has seen his redshirt players explode when they finally hit the court. After Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons sat at Brown’s hip at the start of their careers, their learning curves have been steeper than the north face of the Eiger. Fultz should stay on Brown’s hip. Watching. Learning. Looking sharp in his Boyz II Men outfits.
Fultz clearly makes the Sixers more talented, but would he really make the team better?
We’ve seen him only chronically indifferent and technically inept as a defender. He would be challenged, pressured, and confused by defenses that have spent the last five months perfecting their methods of deception. So have the Sixers, and, so, he will disrupt their defense.
He would bog down a Sixers offense that often stalls in its half-court sets. Incorporating Fultz might make it prettier at first, but he won’t smooth the underlying wrinkles — when it gets run at all.
The Sixers lead the league with 17 turnovers per game, a whopping 7 percent more than the second-place teams. Like Fultz, Embiid and Simmons have not played a full NBA season. They rank fifth (3.9) and eighth (3.5) in turnovers, respectively. No other team has two players (who have played more than 50 games) in the top 20.
You think this team has a difficult time holding leads now? Put a rookie ball-handler with a reconstructed jump shot on the floor in the second half. Sixers leads would disappear faster than a Shirley Temple at a Meek Mill concert.
Fultz also would turn late games into intentional-foul marathons. He made just 64.9 percent of his free throws in college, and the world was not watching him at Washington. Already, the Sixers try to hide Simmons, who is shooting 57.1 percent from the line overall and 46.7 percent in the last five minutes of close games. It would be Hack-a-Rook.
Sure, there’s a chance that Fultz would add an occasional scoring burst. But you know what would surely come his way?
Criticism. Scrutiny. Blame.
Why put him in that position? What would you gain?
A few minutes of experience. A glimpse of the future. A lesson for Fultz as to how brutal NBA players become when their futures are in question, because playoff play drives salaries and legacies.
What do you risk?
Failure. Injury. Reinjury. Humiliation. Blame.
Markelle Fultz has the chance to be one of the better guards in Sixers history. I can’t wait to see that process begin.
In the fall.