It’s rare when a No. 1 pick is essentially a ghost during the first month of the season and usually doesn’t bode well for the future. Put it this way: Jahlil Okafor was more visible and (slightly) more effective for the Sixers last year than Markelle Fultz has been so far.
But the Sixers are being wise with Fultz, allowing his shoulder issues to settle and heal before throwing him back on the floor. Given how the Sixers have hummed along without him, there’s certainly no rush.
David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily Newsagrees with the take-it-slow approach and he explains why:
At the moment, things look so natural for the Sixers on the court that it is easy to forget that Markelle Fultz was ever part of the plan. That’s a good thing, both for the rookie, and for the team, whether your perspective is the long-term future or the here-and-now. With Fultz a week-and-a-half into a layoff that is expected to last at least three weeks, the Sixers are in a position where they can and should prioritize Fultz’s ceiling over whatever immediate utility they envisioned him providing to this year’s team when they traded up to select him at No. 1 overall. This, for a variety of reasons.
1. As long as they stay relatively healthy, the Sixers are a playoff team.
Their 104-97 win over the Utah Jazz on Tuesday might have been the best sign yet. That might seem counterintuitive, given that it was one of their worst offensive showings of the season. They shot just 42 percent from the field, down from the 48.5 they shot over the six previous games. They turned the ball over a season-high 22 times, and were whistled for a season-high 34 fouls. But as out of synch as they looked throughout long stretches of the game, the fact that they were able to come away with a win says a little something about this team. Granted, the fact that the Jazz shot the ball with the efficiency of a rec-league team helped their cause. It’s hard to lose a game in which an opponent shoots 30 percent from the field and misses 30 of 39 three-point attempts. But this was the first game of a long West Coast trip against a tough defensive team, one the Sixers were playing without Joel Embiid against one of the game’s best rim protectors in Rudy Gobert. Gobert’s presence clearly affected Ben Simmons, who played his worst game as a pro, turning the ball over six times and connecting on just 7-of-22 attempts from the field. Yet they won.
2. Adding Fultz to the mix without a consistent jumper won’t move the needle.
At least, there’s a strong argument to be made to that effect. If Fultz can’t or won’t knock down open looks, what does he bring to the court that improves upon what the Sixers are already getting out of T.J. McConnell? Fultz has better size and a better ability to finish at the rim once he gets there, but McConnell’s defense, rhythm, and court intuition are all far ahead of anything the Sixers could have reasonably expected to get out of Fultz this season, even before his travails. The two things that would significantly improve the Sixers are: A) a player with McConnell’s attributes who is also a more consistent finisher/shooter, and B) a player with Jerryd Bayless’ attributes who is also a more consistent defender/ball handler/passer.