Markelle Fultz should be relegated to a reserve role (for now)
I didn't want to write about Markelle Fultz. I really didn't. There's enough being written about the 20-year old on the interwebs as is. However, it's virtually impossible to discuss the Sixers start to the 2018-19 NBA season without doing so through the scope of Fultz's situation.
So, here it is: Fultz should be relegated to a reserve role for the time being.
It's only been a handful of games, but it's clear that something isn't working for the Sixers with Fultz in the starting lineup, and the team is struggling on both ends of the floor because of it.
Heading into the season, I expected that Fultz would start out as a reserve after the injury issue and shooting struggles that plagued him last season. I figured that the Sixers would keep their starting five from last season - a starting five that was the best in the league statistically - intact, and bring Fultz off of the bench to provide the team with a potential scoring spark while easing the second-year guard and former number one overall pick back into action.
I thought maybe, midway through the season - if he were playing well enough - Fultz would replace Redick in the first five, as that is the ultimate goal. Thus, I was pretty surprised when Brett Brown named Fultz a pseudo-starter - a player that starts the first half but not the second half – during the preseason, and kept him in the role once the regular season got underway.
Despite my initial surprise, I went into the experiment with an open mind. Fultz is expected to play a major role for the franchise moving forward, and to do so he will have to be comfortable playing alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, so might as well get him some experience doing so, especially early in the season, I thought.
However, I’ve seen enough. It’s time to pull the plug (for now).
The Sixers are worse with Fultz on the floor in virtually every statistical category, as he has struggled to score efficiently and also often looks lost on defense. His clear preference to avoid deep shots and instead dribble drive into the key has negatively impacted the team’s spacing on offense, and he hasn’t proven adept at on or off-ball defense.
The Sixers are currently in the bottom half of the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency (18th overall in each category), after finishing in the top 10 in both last season. Aside from some other minor moving pieces, Fultz is the main difference here, as he’s been a net negative on both sides of the ball.
Through the first five games of the season, replacing Redick with Fultz with the other four starters on the floor has resulted in a drop of nearly 41 points in net rating (h/t NBA stats).
This is not necessarily meant as an indictment on Fultz either, as struggles were to be expected. However, those struggles are having a torpedo effect on the entire team with Fultz in the first five. His role as a part-time starter has thrown the entire team rotation into flux. No one seems quite sure exactly how – or for how long – Brown is going to use Fultz on a game-by-game basis, and that hasn’t helped.
Pushing Fultz back to a reserve role in favor of Redick could return some stability to the rotation, while still providing Fultz with [ample] opportunity to develop and contribute. The move could potentially also work to alleviate some of the pressure facing Fultz. As a former top pick, that pressure isn’t going to disappear, but allowing him to work his way back to full form in a reserve role rather than thrusting him into the starting lineup when he clearly isn’t ready, could help minimize it.
Fultz has made it clear – both with his play and with his words – that he is more comfortable with the ball in his hands at this point in time (which is another concern entirely, since Fultz was selected largely due to his projected ability to fit next to the ball-dominant Ben Simmons).
“I’m pretty good with the ball in my hands,” Fultz said after the Sixers loss to the Pistons on Tuesday night.
Putting him with the second unit would allow him more time where he’s currently comfortable, with the obvious hope that that comfort spreads to the other areas of his game (read: shooting from distance) over time.
I’m not ready to write Fultz off as a potentially productive (and maybe even very good) player at this point in time. He is still just 20 years old, and has shown flashes of elite athleticism, play-making and finishing. However, it’s clear that his presence in the Sixers starting lineup is having a negative impact on the team, and it’s time to make a change.
Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on Twitter @therealmikekb.