It could be five months before anyone knows whether or not Markelle Fultz is going to be a guard who can shoot.
While it was clear during Friday’s exit interviews that coach Brett Brown hopes to see Fultz play summer league ball, his hope was the only thing that was perfectly clear.
Are there clear summer plans for Fultz? Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo did not want to answer the question head on, saying that more conversations would need to be had with Fultz and his agent before making a complete offseason plan.
Later, Colangelo was very clear with respect to Furkan Korkmaz’s and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot’s summer schedule and assured the gathered media that player development involved every member of the team, not just the big names like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Fultz.
“This is not just about three players, it’s about the whole team, the whole roster, and it’s our goal and focus to develop everyone equally,” he said. “It’s likely that Timmy is not with us in summer league but it’s likely that Furkan is.”
So, why is it so easy to decide on the development path of Korkmaz and Luwawu-Cabarrot but not Fultz?
“As you look at players who play in the summer league, Year 1 to Year 2, generally there has something to do with draft status and where players were picked and that might be a factor in this,” Colangelo said. “But it also is probably more focused on where he is in his development and where we think the best place is for him to get to where he needs to be come September or October when we start camp next year.”
The problem with this is that Fultz is not the player he was when he was drafted and for the better part of a year has not played basketball. It’s not like the No. 1 overall pick had a great and successful season and is going into the summer having proved himself already.
Last year’s No. 1 overall pick did not play for the majority of the 2017-18 campaign and his shot has disappeared.
Where is the shot?
The overarching sentiment from the Sixers general manager was that Fultz is an elite scorer who will return playing at the level that was expected of him when he was drafted No.1 overall last June — shooting three-pointers at a clip higher than 40 percent.
“We know that Markelle can score, we know that he can shoot the basketball, and it’s going to come back fully,” Colangelo said referring to Fultz’s ability to shoot from long range.
That’s a pretty definitive stance. But Colangelo later backed away from the confidence in Fultz’s ability to return to form.
He said that even without a three-point shot, Fultz is an elite player who can play alongside Simmons with ease. He even answered a question by asking one to prove his point.
“We’re in the playoffs and we start T.J. McConnell and Ben Simmons,” Colangelo said. “Is that necessarily dissimilar?”
No, not much. That’s the problem.
The Sixers did not trade up from the third spot in the 2017 draft and give up another first-round pick in order to draft a guard who can not shoot.
McConnell was able to provide defensive spark for the Sixers that led to one victory against Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Just one. But one of the biggest reasons the Sixers were eliminated from the playoffs was their inability to make shots.
The most glaring and obvious piece missing from the Sixers roster is a guard who can create his own shot and knock them down from distance.
The Sixers seem to be operating under the assumption that next season Fultz will be exactly the type of player they envisioned when they drafted him, even though there isn’t any publicly available evidence to suggest that is the case.
If Fultz’s shot remains absent from his game, the Sixers are leaning hard on the other elements of his game that are impressive and hoping that he will still be able to be effective within the Sixers’ system.
“He’s got ways to create offensively for himself and others, once again, at an elite level,” Colangelo said. “I think it’s pretty obvious that in the last game of the season, having a triple-double and affecting the game in so many ways without the confidence to step into an 18-foot shot or a three-point shot. It’s not dissimilar to what you have with Ben Simmons right now.”
While the Celtics and 76ers will forever be linked because of their historic rivalry, one of the reasons they are more recently linked is because of the trade that gave the Sixers Fultz and allowed the Celtics to select Jayson Tatum with the No. 3 overall pick.
Tatum is a star. He was on a slow-burn rise all season and has exploded during the playoffs. He is one of the go-to guys for Celtics coach Brad Stevens and is averaging 18.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.2 assists in his first postseason run.
With Fultz relegated to the sideline during the playoffs due to his inexperience after sitting out most of the season, it was hard not to look at Tatum’s dominance and wonder if Colangelo made the wrong decision.
“I don’t have an ounce of buyer’s remorse,” he said. “We made the deal putting ourselves in the position to select the player that was the best fit for this team and this roster moving forward and I still feel that way.
Colangelo had no problem praising Tatum and saying that the Celtics have done a great job with the pieces they have and that it is impressive what Tatum has done individually, but he is hoping that with time the deal with Boston will look good.
“Deals are judged immediately all the time and we live in that world and I understand it and it’s easy to draw that conclusion” he said. “But our future is our future and Markelle’s future is bright.”