Is Markelle Fultz the key to the Sixers taking down the Celtics?

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The 76ers simply didn’t have enough tools in the shed to take down the Boston Celtics when they went against each other in the playoffs. The Celtics just outplayed the Sixers and exposed their lack of wing defense and scoring threats. Next season will be even harder for the Sixers to to take down the Celtics since they will be adding a healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to the squad.

The Sixers tried to address the defensive issues by adding Wilson Chandler and drafting Zhaire Smith, who should return by the time the playoffs roll around after suffering a Jones fracture in his left foot. However, they weren’t able to add a dynamic scorer to the mix. That’s ok though because they might already have the guy they need in Markelle Fultz.

Honestly, no one knows what to expect from Markelle Fultz next season. After a weird rookie season where he dealt with a combination of a shoulder injury and one of the worst documented cases of the yips, Fultz just wasn’t playing like the number one pick that the team had drafted last year. It was notable the second he touched the basketball. He was hesitant to take jumpers, which really disrupted the flow of his game.

In his lone season at Washington, Fultz put up an impressive 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists on 41% shooting from behind the arc. He was one of the best college players in the nation. His ability to orchestrate and score out of pick and rolls as well as knock down shots was a huge reason as to why the Sixers traded up to draft him in the first place. While we got a taste of it in the 2017 Summer League, it all disappeared after the regular season started. Fultz’s jumper appeared to change every time he shot a free throw or pull up and his confidence wavered.

This offseason, Fultz decided to work out with Drew Hanlen, a renowned basketball coach who trains a lot of stars in the league like Jayson Tatum and Joel Embiid. Hanlen has apparently helped Fultz reconstruct his jumper and gain his confidence again. He has teased his progress in some tweets and videos on Twitter. Check out this picture of Fultz’s new shooting form:

If it’s true that Markelle Fultz has regained his shooting touch, he could serve as a secret weapon for the Sixers in a matchup against the Celtics. Fultz’ ability to score off the dribble is something that they didn’t have before. Defenders will have to respect whenever Fultz has the ball in his hands and play him tight, unlike Ben Simmons and T.J. McConnell, who aren’t threats from 3 point range (to be fair, McConnell can knock them down if he’s wide open, but only then). As defenders are forced to close out on Fultz, it’ll create more space for Simmons and Embiid on the inside, which is exactly what the Sixers want.

 

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Not only will his scoring be something that the Celtics have to deal with but Fultz is a dynamic playmaker, particularly out of pick and roll situations. Imagine Fultz in a pick and roll with Embiid where the opposing defender has to switch over the screen to make sure Fultz doesn’t get an open look. If the defender goes over the screen, Embiid could quickly roll to the basket, where Fultz is sure to find him. If he goes under the screen, Fultz will have a fairly open look and be able to knock down a jumper. That’s simply not something that the Celtics had to be concerned about when playing against the Sixers last season.

Fultz can also be a very capable defender. He’s 6’4 with a 6’10 wingspan. He’ll be able to cover opposing guards and even small forwards if he finds himself in a pinch. He’s quick on his feet and is a very good shot blocker for a guard. Fultz will definitely provide better defense than J.J. Redick and Marco Belinelli did in the series against the Celtics.

Markelle Fultz could be a major factor for the Sixers if he actually fixed his jump shot and is confident in himself again. The Sixers didn’t have another multifaceted scorer that the Celtics had to worry about last time. Add a healthy and rejuvenated Markelle Fultz into the mix and it could be an entirely different ball game when the two teams meet again. Luckily, we won’t have to wait long since they face off against each other on October 16th.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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