Sixers and Markelle Fultz are on different timelines
Watching Brett Brown struggle to find a consistent role with the Sixers for second-year guard Markelle Fultz over the first month of this season, one thing has become clear: Fultz and the Sixers are on different timelines.
This was perfectly illustrated by the fact that Fultz played just seven minutes against the Phoenix Suns on Monday night and failed to make an appearance in the second half, as T.J. McConnell got the minutes that would have normally gone to Fultz.
“I thought the first half was flat,” Brown said after the game of why he went with McConnell. “I thought we came out of halftime doing decent things. But I thought by and large the first half was flat, we needed an injection [of energy], so I came in with T.J., shuffled the lineup around a little bit, and [am] glad to get out of here with a win.”
After making it to the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season, and adding an All-Star in his prime in Jimmy Butler, the Sixers are firmly in ‘win now’ mode, and at this point in time, Fultz isn’t a ‘win now’ player. That isn’t to say that he won’t be, as he is still only 20 years old and regularly shows flashes of extreme athleticism and play-making ability.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that the Sixers need him to be something he’s not right now: a legitimate offensive option and capable floor-spacer – or, in other words, the player that they drafted him to be.
This season, Brett Brown has repeatedly said that Fultz is a point guard, as he is clearly more effective with the ball in his hands. The problem is that he was drafted, specifically, for his [projected] ability to play both with the ball, and without the ball off of Ben Simmons as a combo guard with respectable range. Simmons game hasn’t changed since Fultz’s selection.
Had Fultz been drafted during the peak ‘Process’ years (2013, ’14, or ’15) he would have been afforded more extensive on-court opportunities to grow his game in low stakes situations, like Robert Covington was. He would have played in the second half of a game against the lowly Suns on a Monday night in November. However, at this point, the Sixers can’t afford to dedicate many in-game minutes to development. With legitimate title aspirations, they can’t afford to lose games that they should win, and with that in mind, Brown went with the player he felt more comfortable with.
“The responsibility to grow him, the responsibility to coach the team to win, it's all on the table,” Brown said on Monday night. "It's part of what I weigh up.”
He said something similar last week too.
"It is [difficult]," Brown said of finding the right role for Fultz. "Because you've got a human side, and a responsibility to the individual, but mostly you've got a responsibility to the team, and somewhere in that pyramid of layers I've got to figure it out.”
Fultz didn’t have too much to say on Monday night, other than that as a competitor, he wants to be out on the floor.
"You definitely want to go out there and compete,” Fultz said prior to exiting the Sixers locker room. “I'm a competitor. But, at the end of the day, coach made a decision to do that, so I have to live with it. My mindset is just, when I step on the court, go out there and play.”
Prior to the season, Fultz said he saw himself as that third star next to Joel Embiid and Simmons that people said that the Sixers needed.
“I kind of like when people doubt me and say 'look for another star,'” Fultz said in early October. "I see myself as that player. I just work every day to become better… I really don't look at other people's goals [for me], but I definitely look at it to see myself as that next player that can step up in that role."
By moving a pair of key role players in Covington and Dario Saric to land Buler, the Sixers sent a clear message that they don’t believe that Fultz is that third star at this point in time, and they didn’t want to wait for him to [potentially] blossom into it.
And with Tuesday’s news that Fultz is scheduled to see a shoulder specialist early next week and sit out games and practices in the meantime, it is fair to wonder if there is any role for him with the Sixers moving forward.
Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on Twitter @therealmikekb.