More to Do | Fultz Eager to Take Next Steps
On the heels of the 76ers’ breakout season coming to an end in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, we’ll be spending a few days publishing short stories as part of our “Looking Ahead” content series, which will focus on how the team, and its players, can build off the eye-opening success they enjoyed in 2017-2018.
Part I: Embiid, MVP?
Part II: A Destination With Increasing Appeal
Part V: Fultz Eager to Take Next Steps
In sparse, yet increasingly encouraging action, Markelle Fultz showed he has the ability to affect games at the NBA level.
Now, focusing on what he, and the 76ers, hope will be a more involved, impactful 2018-2019 campaign, the guard is setting sights on more than just potential. His mission is staying power.
“I’m just looking to prove I belong here, and that I’m an NBA player,” Fultz said in a matter-of-fact, upbeat tone during an exit interview press conference.
In 14 regular season appearances, plus three more in the Sixers’ opening-round Playoffs series against the Miami Heat, the Sixers felt like Fultz indeed did enough to show that he both very much belongs in the league, and ultimately is capable of fulfilling the promise that surrounded him this time a year ago.
The top selection in the 2017 draft, Fultz went on to average 6.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 3.4 assists in 16.2 minutes per game as a rookie, while shooting 38.9 percent from the field.
Upon returning from a 68-game absence on March 26th, and assuming full-time back-up point guard duties, the 19-year old’s numbers experienced some positive trends. He reached double-figures five times, his assist-to-turnover ratio was a revelation 5.3 (51 /12), and he converted nearly 43.0 percent of his shots.
Beyond that, and arguably even more important, Fultz finished the year seemingly fueled by a rejuvenated spirit. He was as assertive driving to the basket as he was running the Sixers’ offense - the latter not an easy ask, given Fultz had been out five months, and only played four regular season games previously.
It’s that exact type of I-know-I-can-get-there-try-to-stop-me swagger that the Sixers will expect from Fultz moving forward, starting as soon as the off-season.
“I want him getting back his mojo, I want him playing basketball in a high level sort of energized individual instruction environment,” Brett Brown said following the end of the season.
Experiences like Fultz’s memorable, climactic 13-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist outing in the Sixers’ regular season finale against Milwaukee should only help to bolster his confidence. Prior to that game, there had never been a younger player in NBA history to register a triple-double.
The performance, and the others this spring that preceded it, could wind up serving as a nice springboard for Fultz’s continued development.
“The things that he has had to endure this season, we all understand,” said Brown. “We’ve seen signs of brilliance with what he’s done in a gym this year. I think he’s going to have a great summer, and I’m excited to get him going along Ben and Joel next year.”
The aforementioned “Ben and Joel,” of course, would be Rookie of the Year finalist Ben Simmons, and All-Star Joel Embiid. Fultz, like his head coach, thinks he’ll have a productive presence alongside two other prominent pillars of the Sixers’ bright future.
“Going out and joining them will take us to the next step,” Fultz said. “We have bigger expectations next season, and I can’t wait to come in and put my foot on it.”
Bryan Colangelo, entering his third year as the Sixers’ President of Basketball Operations, viewed it as a crucial step that Fultz got himself back on the court, and into the team’s the line-up before the season ended.
“He was a consensus no. 1 pick for a reason. He was the player we traded up for with the future in mind as the best fit for this organization.”
Many of the “elite” offensive skills that Fultz exhibited during his lone season at Washington were apparent down the home stretch of the Sixers’ season, in Colangelo’s eyes. The shot creation was there, as was Fultz’s knack for getting to the basket.
The Sixers thought that, thanks to hours logged with coaches during individual workouts, Fultz improved finishing over length, and got his body to the point where he could really capitalize on his physical gifts.
“He is right now far and away a better athlete and more prepared to take on the rigors of the NBA than he was at the beginning of the year,” said Colangelo.
Fultz’s instincts impressed the Sixers, too, and they believe the Prince George’s County native has a chance to become a disruptive defender.
“The things he’s learning to do...he’s going to be better for that,” said Colangelo. “He’s a lot further along in certain areas already. I think the future is very bright for him.”
On the immediate horizon, Fultz says his plan is to fill his off-season with basketball and conditioning workouts. The goal is to rack up “a lot of reps,” just like the Sixers told him to do.
Brown said he wouldn’t be surprised if Fultz uses this past year as a source of motivation - something that drives him “into letting people know, I’m Markelle Fultz. I’m the first player chosen in the NBA draft, and this is why.”
“I look forward to delivering him to the arena in front of 20,000 fans, and remind everybody, maybe him more important than anybody, this is why we took you,” Brown said.
It’s a possibility that all parties seem to feel good about.