Fultz Shows Progress In Win Over Bulls
The Philadelphia 76ers (1-1) picked up their first win of the season on Thursday night, 127-108, over the Chicago Bulls. Ben Simmons recorded his 13th career triple-double, Joel Embiid posted an impressive line of 30 points and 12 boards and rookie Landry Shamet contributed with 12 points off the bench, hitting four of his seven shots from beyond the arc. The story of the night though, to no one's surprise, was the performance of Markelle Fultz.
After Tuesday's loss against Boston in the season opener, there seemed to be immediate concern growing about if Markelle Fultz will ever be fixed or if he has a true role on this team. He played 24 minutes, scored just five points and appeared for just three minutes in the second half. It was easy to be critical after that loss, but Fultz's trainer, Drew Hanlen, reminded us that things are going to take some time.
“We live in a day where everyone wants instant results and truth is it takes time. He sat out for a year," Hanlen told Yahoo Sports. "If you take a step back and look at things, he went from not getting into the game to starting. That’s a big improvement. He passed up some shots that he will take, but it was his first game back.”
With that rough game behind him, the second-year guard out of Washington took the court in front of the home crowd on Thursday. He went 0-for-2 in the first quarter, but seemed to get more comfortable as the game went along. He shot 1-for-4 in the second, 1-for-3 in the third and 3-for-6 in the final quarter. Although his shots weren't dropping, he took the most shots on the team, which is a promising sign.
"He ended up taking the most shots out of anybody on our team. Which, in itself, is to me, a statement," Brett Brown said after the game. "He shot it to mean it, he didn't look afraid of anything. He missed the shots, but they looked good, and I think in general, we played him quite a bit of minutes, he took the most shots out of anybody on the team, I thought his defense was very good. It's a big night for that young man."
The fans were paying attention to Fultz's every move while he was on the court. They would show energy when he had the ball in his hands and when he had an open opportunity to shoot. He passed up a few opportunities earlier in the game, but as the Sixers padded their lead, he played more freely. He got a standing ovation after hitting his first shot a 15-foot jumper in the second. The coolest moment came when the Sixers were up big and Fultz had an open look beyond the arc in the fourth quarter. He stepped up, let it fly and the crowd went nuts.
“Man, it makes me feel better,” said Fultz about the fan support. “I want the crowd to feel as good as I want to play out there. It makes me just want to play harder for them.”
A final stat line of 12 points on 5-for-15 shooting is nothing to write home about, but the 15 shots is something you can tally up to progress, even if some of the better shots came in the fourth quarter. Expect him to keep shooting the ball the more he gets adjusted to things.
"I worked hard this summer," said Fultz. "Tonight, I didn't make a lot of shots, but I am going to keep shooting. If I see an open shot, then I'm going to shoot it; that's what I worked for."
Fultz was active on defense as well, notching two steals, and also had five assists.
The fans are behind Fultz and while the media will continue to pick apart the flaws of his game to stir the pot, his teammates fully support him and the work that he's put in to get back on the court after a frustrating rookie season. Joel Embiid put together a stellar performance and he believes that Fultz can continue to help the Sixers with more than just shooting the ball.
"It's like what I've always said, he's going to be really good," said Joel Embiid. "When I'm on the floor with him I really feel comfortable. He really knows how to find guys and understands when someone needs the ball, that's where he's going to help us a lot."
As the season progresses, Fultz's role will be carved out better. The rotation will take better shape when the team gets some guys back from injury as well, which will open up a chance for Markelle both run the offense more as a point guard and develop as an off-ball guard next to Ben Simmons. Either way you put it, Thursday was a step in the right direction for Fultz and hopefully the progress continues over the weekend.
Fultz, Embiid and the rest of the Sixers will look to build on their strong play when they host the Orlando Magic on Saturday night in Philadelphia. That should be a fun one to watch with Joel Embiid going against Mo Bamba, who posted 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in his debut on Wednesday against Miami.
Brandon Apter is a Sixers contributor to 97.3 ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @bapter23.