Fultz Delivering With Defense
Brett Brown had a good number of reasons to move Markelle Fultz into the starting line-up this pre-season - to reward all the hard work the youngster put in this summer, take advantage of his impressive get-to-the-basket talents, and ability to handle the ball effectively.
But it was Fultz’s performance and the potential he’s shown on other side of the ball - defense - that arguably influenced Brown’s decision more than anything else.
“I first think that he is a willing defender, it’s not pulling teeth,” Brown said recently. “The NBA defense is incredibly different than anything he experienced in college [at Washington], or DeMatha, in high school, so it starts with are you a willing participant.? Are you a willing defensive player, will you let me coach you defensively?
“He will, yes he can, and yes he does.”
That has clearly been the case in the Sixers’ two pre-season contests, with Fultz holding his own while tasked with covering proven scorers.
The basis of Fultz’s mindset on the defensive end of the court has been straightforward.
“I just want to be as active as I can,” Fultz said last week. “I got long arms - I just want to distract the ball handler and get my hands on as many passes as I can, be in the right positions, and just help the team.”
Music to Brown’s defensively-tuned ears.
“That’s what I like the most - his mentality,” Brown said. “He knows that’s where I see the world, and that’s where our bread is buttered.”
Then, there’s the matter of Fultz’s physical attributes.
His wingspan (roughly 6’10”) makes the long-ish Sixers - especially a unit that already features Simmons, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and Joel Embiid - that much longer.
“That part of the game, that part of him excites me,” said Brown.
Facing Melbourne United in the Sixers’ pre-season opener, Fultz finished with two steals, plus a pair of blocks, in 23 minutes. He had another block Monday versus the Orlando Magic.
Based on early returns from pre-season and training camp, Brown thinks the former no. 1 pick could actually end up being better defensively than people initially thought going into the 2017 draft.
“I think we’d all be lying if we didn’t wonder where would this end up,” Brown said of Fultz. “I’ve always felt he was going to end up being fine. How soon? I didn’t know. The work that he put in this summer, it’s clear he feels good about himself, borne out of he’s invested time. He’s put in the work.”
So far, it’s been paying off.
• Markelle Fultz’s ascent into the starting line-up has meant that, for now, JJ Redick has been coming off the bench. Not only does a mutual respect seem to exist between the two, but a strong bond as well.
“JJ’s like a big brother to me,” Fultz said. “Me getting into the starting line-up, he’s been a big supporter to me, one of my biggest supporters. I’m thankful to have a vet like that talk me through things.”
“I expressed to Brett [Brown] and Markelle separately I’m one of Markelle’s biggest fans - maybe not like his mother and some other people in his life - but I’m one of his biggest fans,” said Redick. “I want to see him succeed, I want this line-up to succeed. For me, the ultimate goal is to be able to play for a championship, and our line-up last year was one of the best of the league, if not one of the best in the league by a few measurements, so if this line-up is as good or better, we’re going to be in a position to play for a championship. I think it could be a great thing.”