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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Sixers Notebook: Shouldering the blame

Posted by Eric Fisher On October 28

On the list of statements people should never have made, Markelle Fultz’s statement that he feels sorry for players who have to defend against him and Ben Simmons, the last two No. 1 picks in the NBA Draft, should rank near the top.

To say that Fultz’s NBA career hasn’t had the greatest start would rank high on any list of major understatements.

Fultz didn’t set the world on fire during his first four NBA games. He averaged six points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists. He made just 33.3 percent of his shots from the field and 50 percent of his free throws.

An explanation for Fultz’ poor start initially came from his agent, not the Sixers. Raymond Brothers, Fultz’s agent, told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Fultz can’t raise his arms properly to shoot and had fluid drained from his right shoulder (the information was later corrected to Fultz having a cortisone shot). The next day the Sixers announced that Fultz would be sidelined for at least four games due to right shoulder soreness.

It is significant how the information became public. Why did the agent reveal that Fultz has a serious shoulder issue? Why didn’t the Sixers reveal that information? Why was Fultz playing?

By going public, the agent clearly was trying to force the Sixers’ hand. The question is whether he went public because he was concerned for Fultz’s health or because his client was embarrassing himself. Fultz’s awkward free throws were being mocked on the Internet.

The Sixers responded by shutting Fultz down the next day, but, at the same time, Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said there was nothing structurally wrong with Fultz’s shoulder.

“There was no medical reason not to play him,” Colangelo said. “He was cleared to play and he wanted to play. That’s why he was playing. His reluctance to shoot, obviously his shot mechanics have been affected by whatever’s going on, or vice versa.”

Let’s dissect that quote from Colangelo. First, he protects the team from accusations that Fultz was playing when he should have been sidelined. This is a sensitive issue for the Sixers, who apparently let Joel Embiid play last January with a torn meniscus and were less than forthcoming about the nature of Embiid’s injury.

The second thing Colangelo does in that quote is counter any implication that Fultz felt he couldn’t play due to his sore shoulder but was being pressured into playing by the Sixers. Those defenses were necessary due to the statements by Fultz’s agent. But the last portion of Colangelo’s quote was not necessary.

In the final portion of the quote, Colangelo suggest that Fultz’s attempt to change his shooting mechanics may have resulted in the injury. This theory was also floated by Sixers head coach Brett Brown.

The only positive development from the unnecessary suggestion that Fultz caused his own injuries is that Colangelo and Brown are on the same page. The rest is all negative. The suggestion that Fultz even changed his shooting mechanics during the summer was met by disbelief by Fultz’s trainer during an interview with Chris Carlin and Ike Reese on WIP.

Although the Sixers would certainly deny it, there appears to be a developing rift between the organization and the player it selected first overall in this year’ draft. Remember, the Sixers traded up to get the first pick. The dispute over whether Fultz should have been playing is not a good start to this relationship. The suggestion that Fultz caused his own injury exacerbates the situation.

Why would the Sixers have pushed Fultz to play – his sore shoulder caused him to miss preseason games – after they allowed Simmons to sit out his entire first season and Embiid to sit out his first two seasons? Perhaps it’s because those two players sat out entire seasons at the start of their careers, as did Nerlens Noel, that the Sixers put Fultz in the lineup.

The Sixers aren’t supposed to be in rebuilding mode any longer. Perhaps they were concerned that having their top draft choice sidelined due to injury would send a signal that they are still rebuilding, which all but would likely attract criticism from all except the most devoted Trust the Process diehards.

Meanwhile, the question no longer is who can defend against Fultz and Simmons. The question is when Fultz will get back on the court.

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DEFINITION ISSUES: My favorite quote from Bryan Colangelo was when he defended the Sixers’ decision not to reveal that Markelle Fultz had a cortisone shot, and then added, “I think we’ve been pretty transparent.”

This list of instances in which the Sixers have hid the truth, or simply lied, is a long one. Embiid’s knee injury last season would yield at least three or four examples. If the Sixers want to keep Fultz’s cortisone shot secret, that’s their prerogative. But they can’t fail to report the cortisone shot and claim they’ve been “pretty transparent.”

I’m beginning to think that Colangelo might have a different definition of “transparent” than the rest of the world.

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MAJOR IMPACT: In contrast to Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons is off to a terrific start to his NBA career (if we ignore the year in which he didn’t play). Through five games, Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 10 rebounds and 7.4 assists. His shooting away from the basket is still suspect and he is making just 57.1 percent of his free throws, which could be a problem late in games for a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time, but those are minor complaints about a rookie who is nearly averaging a triple double.

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FORGOTTEN MAN: Through the first five games of the season, forward/center Jahlil Okafor has only played in one game, and that was when Joel Embiid did not play because it was the second night of back-to-back games. When asked about Okafor’s inactivity, head coach Brett Brown said that the former third overall draft pick is “not in the rotation” right now, with veteran Amir Johnson (3.6 points per game) playing instead of Okafor.

Okafor appears relegated to playing in blowouts and the second half of back-to-back games. How will that build up his trade value?

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CROWDED PICTURE: The center/forward position could become more crowded relatively soon. Richaun Holmes got the brace off his fractured wrist and could be re-evaluated soon. Holmes’ return would likely mean fewer minutes for Amir Johnson and less of an opportunity for Jahlil Okafor.

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CENTER OF ATTENTION: When the Sixers visit the Mavericks on Saturday (8:30 p.m.), it will create a matchup between Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel, formerly a member of the three-headed center with Embiid and Okafor.

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ADJUSTMENT PERIOD: Dario Saric seems to be having difficulty adjusting to his new role in the Sixers’ rotation. A finalist for NBA rookie of the year last season, Saric is averaging just 5.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists. He is making 33.3 percent of his shots from the field. The versatile Saric should figure out a way to contribute more.

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NO NEED FOR PANIC: Fans shouldn’t panic over the Sixers’ 1-4 record. Although the last-second loss to the Rockets hurt, the Sixers won the one game they probably should have been favored to win. They will have better opportunities to win games through the first 10 days of November, but the Sixers have a very difficult schedule for the first two months of the season.

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LOOKAHEAD: The Saturday’s game at Dallas, the Sixers will complete their Texas two-step Monday (8 p.m.) against the Rockets. They will then return home for games Wednesday (7 p.m.) against the Hawks and Friday (7 p.m.) against the Pacers before embarking on a five-game West Coast trip.

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