Markelle Fultz did a thing. A big thing. Well, it’s a small thing to everyone else but all things considered, this was pretty big. Spoiler alert, we’re not talking about the three pointer.
Fultz handled adversity and within the space of a single game, was able to overcome it and trust his own process. Logging 32 minutes in yesterday’s win over the Bulls, Fultz took a little while to settle in and it rapidly became clear that teams are now trying to play on all the noise and dare him to break from his comfort zone.
In the opening quarter, Fultz caught a pass from Covington and with meters of open court in front of him thought about the three-pointer, before pulling it in, dribbling for a few steps and hanging it off to Dario Saric, who proceeded to miss the shot. An opportunity wasted.
The spacing was all off for Fultz from that moment on. There were too many times where the strong links that are associated with a starting five seemed to weaken as teammates were forced to force the ball inside, prompting Embiid’s big 30-point double-double. He made a shot early on that enticed a standing ovation from the fans, something I’m as a player you wouldn’t be able to tell if it was genuine or sarcastic. That may be the reason behind his inconsistency over the next few shots, which were all short of the mark.
When Redick came onto the floor and the rhythm picked up, the Sixers began firing on all cylinders and the lead they held began to snowball. As they headed into the fourth quarter and the high-pressure situations evaporated, Fultz was able to cut it loose…and then he drained the three. The Wells Fargo erupted and a surge of energy flowed through the veins of the second-year player.
Fultz let it rip and ended taking more shots than anyone else on the team, totaling 12 points to go with 5 assists.
“I just saw [stats] five minutes ago, I wasn’t even really aware he was taking that many shots to lead our team in field goals attempted. But I say that as a complete positive.” Head Coach Brett Brown said. “I felt when he was shooting the ball, they kept going under middle pick and rolls. 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 late breakout was a pleasant surprise to many, but it was nothing short of expected from his teammates.
“It’s like what I’ve always said, he’s going to be really good. I know it.” Joel Embiid told reporters fresh off of his dominant night. “Everybody always gets excited when he shoots a three. He’s going to make those, he’s worked on his shot the whole summer so that’s nothing to worry about. I think the way he can help us is just being a playmaker. 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.”
“I’m never afraid to take shots.” Fultz addressed in the locker room. “I worked hard this summer. 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. Tonight didn’t fall, but eventually, it will. I’m going to keep working, and I have great teammates so if I see my teammates, I’m going to find them.”
Last night wasn’t about the three. It wasn’t about the shooting breakout and it wasn’t about the spacing. It was about Fultz getting off to a bumpy start and instead of letting that define him, relying on what he’s practiced so intensely over the Summer and proving to the world that he’s not going to be scared off the ball. He’s not going to be confined to avoiding those newly constructed mechanics and he won’t let the atmosphere shape his game for better or worse. It’s all a process and this season will be full of highs and lows, but this was undoubtedly the biggest high of all for Markelle Fultz.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports