As the Sixers earned their 50th win of the season, Markelle Fultz played 21 minutes, 12 seconds in the 12th game of his NBA career, and T.J. McConnell played a career-low 2:24.
There are two games left in the Sixers’ 2017-18 campaign. The team will be in Atlanta on Tuesday to face the Hawks and return home Wednesday to host the Milwaukee Bucks in the regular-season finale.
“I want to test Markelle Fultz,” coach Brett Brown said of his choice to hold off on playing McConnell. “And if I give him more minutes, it’s going to come at the expense of T.J. — and it did.”
Tonight marks the first game that T.J McConnell has been active this season but not played in the first half. #Sixers
— Sarah Todd (@NBASarah) April 8, 2018
When the regular season wraps up Brown will have just a 14-game sample of what Fultz looks like at a professional level before deciding what the rookie’s role will be in the playoffs, and whatever role Fultz has will take away from McConnell’s time on the floor.
McConnell isn’t interested in worrying about whether he will lose his spot in the rotation if Brown decides to go with Fultz.
“I can’t think about stuff like that,” McConnell said. “Markelle is a special player and he deserves to be out there. I just have to continue to stay ready and be a professional to the best of my abilities.”
Sunday’s 109-97 win over the Dallas Mavericks was another chance for Brown to try to gain clarity on the situation, but the game wasn’t exactly the Sixers’ best effort. Brown graded the team’s performance at a C.
While testing Fultz would be great for the rookie and give a glimpse of what to expect in the years to come, Brown also said that the most important thing is winning. Despite having locked up a home-court advantage in the first round with the win over Dallas, he wants to secure the third seed in the East. Only after that will Brown start making postseason decisions.
“We want to get 52 wins,” Brown said. “We want to hold that third spot, that’s what I most want to do…Whether that influences how you play Markelle, or Richaun [Holmes], or you try this or that, there will be some of that going on but it’s all going to be derived on how do you win.”
McConnell said he just needs to stay ready, and being ready might be what it comes down to. The NBA playoffs are physical and demanding, and although Fultz said he thinks that he can contribute in the playoffs, he acknowledged that he is on a steep learning curve.
“I don’t feel comfortable or relaxed to say that I’m good at anything,” he said after Sunday’s game. “I need to improve on the defensive end, offensively, helping my teammates, so everything.”
If Brown is looking for wins, the safer and more reliable choice might be McConnell. On the other side of the coin is what we haven’t yet seen from Fultz and what he could possibly bring to the table.