Fultz Provides Sixers with Another Weapon
The Philadelphia 76ers have looked like a legitimately dangerous team since the calendar flipped from 2017 to 2018, and they added another weapon to their arsenal on Monday night, as Markelle Fultz’s long-awaited return to action against the Denver Nuggets was extremely promising for the fourth-seeded Sixers.
While clearly rusty after a five month stay on the sideline, Fultz showed flashes of the player that the Sixers traded up to select first overall last June. In a limited 14 minutes of action, Fultz tallied 10 points (5-for-13 from the field), 8 assists, and 4 rebounds while providing the team with a legitimate spark off of the bench.
The Sixers second unit – a clear weakness of the team earlier in the season – has been bolstered with the recent additions of Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova, but as a dynamic guard that can create for himself and others, [a healthy] Fultz provides the Sixers reserve unit with an entirely different dimension of play that they were previously missing.
“Once I stepped on the floor it felt great just to be back out there with my brothers and have fun,” Fultz said after the Sixers’ 123-104 win over the Nuggets. "I just wanted to help these guys. They supported me. The coaching staff supported me. I’m just trying to be the best teammate I can possibly be."
Fultz looked increasingly comfortable in his return on Monday night, which culminated in a pair of knocked-down midrange jumpers late in the game. Despite his promising play though, there are areas that Fultz will clearly need to improve upon moving forward - which is to be expected for a rookie that hasn’t played since October - especially if he is going to play a legitimate role in the Sixers’ playoff push this season.
Ultimately, 10 points on 13 shots with a 36.8% usage rate won’t cut it, and the Washington product didn’t take a single three-pointer or free throw on Monday night while looking hesitant to pull up from deep a couple of times. Still though, Fultz finished with a +16 in a 14 minute run, and impressed his coach with his on-court confidence.
"Just the fact that he looked to shoot it, made some, looked fluid, looked confident," Brett Brown said after the game. "... I thought it was a real bold, gutsy effort, given where he was."
The Sixers resident All-Star, Joel Embiid, was also happy to have Fultz back in the mix.
"He gives us another great pace," Embiid said. "He can find ways to score and also set guys up. You could tell by his eight assists tonight in 14 minutes. That's big time. That's what we need him to do; score the ball, get guys involved, and create."
Fultz’s aggressiveness was a solid sign, and it was great to just see him out on the floor, as I personally didn’t expect to see him again this season. But there are still questions that need to be answered regarding Fultz's fit and role with the team moving forward as the team heads into its first playoff appearance since 2012. He needs to be consistently comfortable shooting outside of the paint – the Sixers can’t afford for him to be like Ben Simmons in that regard, and it seemed strange that he refused to answer or even acknowledge questions from media members about what exactly happened to his shoulder.
But, while those issues will be resolved in time, one thing is for sure: the already-formidable Sixers looked a little bit more dangerous – and deeper – with Fultz back in the fold on Monday night.
Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on Twitter @therealmikekb