Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Sixers Notebook: Fultz’s development critical

Posted by Eric Fisher On November 4

Judging by the postgame coverage, every game seems to be a referendum on Markelle Fultz. The overreaction to each game is ridiculous, but it underscores that one of the most important storylines for the Sixers this season is Fultz’s development, and a key to Fultz’s development is whether he can play effectively with Ben Simmons.

Fultz has been most effective during the Sixers’ first 10 games when he’s not on the court with Simmons. When Simmons has the ball, Fultz frequently seems lost on the perimeter. Without confidence in his outside shot, Fultz isn’t looking for open places where Simmons can find him.

Despite offseason reports about Fultz working on his shot, he is making just 39.4 percent (39 of 99) of his shots, including 30.8 percent (4 of 13) from 3-point range. With no defender in his way, Fultz is making 64.7 percent of his free throws. If Fultz has confidence in his shot, that confidence is misplaced.

Fultz seems most comfortable when coming off the bench during the second half (he starts the game, but is replaced by JJ Redick at the start of the second half). Fultz provides energy, takes the ball to the basket and, at least during the past week, is making a difference on defense.

The problem is that the Sixers didn’t select Fultz first overall in the 2017 NBA Draft, after trading up to get the first pick, in order to have him become a complementary player who provides a spark off the bench. Unless either Fultz or Simmons develops a reliable jump shot, however, that might be the best-case scenario for the Sixers.

Fultz is still in the early stages of his NBA career. Remember, he only played 14 games as a rookie. There is still plenty of time for Fultz to develop, but the Sixers don’t have a lot of time if we’re talking about the prospects for their success this season. Unfortunately, the early returns on Simmons and Fultz working effectively together aren’t good.

Perhaps the best thing for Fultz would be for people to forget that he was the No. 1 overall pick. That would put the focus on Fultz’s contributions instead of on what he’s not able to do. The chances of that happening, though, are extremely slim.

As the No. 1 overall pick, Fultz must live with high expectations. But it’s fair to question whether he’ll ever come close to approaching those expectations while sharing a backcourt with Simmons.


HOME AND AWAY: The Sixers are 6-0 (through Saturday) at home this season. They are 0-4 on the road.

Part of the reason for the disparity is the strength of schedule. The Clippers are the only team the Sixers have beaten at home that has a winning record. The Sixers have beten the Magic, Bulls, Hawks, Hornets, Pistons and Clippers at home. Their road losses have come against the Celtics, Raptors, Bucks and Pistons. The Bucks and Raptors each have one loss. The Celtics have three defeats.

The road losses to the Celtics, Bucks and Raptors weren’t close. This could indicate that a sizable gap exists between the Sixers and the top teams in the Eastern Conference. On the other hand, the losses to the Raptors and Bucks occurred on back half of games on back-to-back nights, so an optimist could point to extenuating circumstances as the reason for the lopsided losses.


TALKING TRASH: Joel Embiid has displayed MVP-like form during the season’s first 10 games. Embiid is averaging 29.6 points and 12.4 rebounds. During Saturday’s victory over the Pistons, Embiid exceeded his average in the first half, pouring in 32 points.

My only issue with Embiid is his inability to control his emotions. During the opening minutes of Saturday’s victory over the Pistons, Embiid stared down Pistons center Andre Drummond after a dunk and, in a separate incident moments later, picked up a technical foul. Embiid then got into foul trouble, which is part of the reason he only added seven points after a monster first half.

Embiid’s behavior was worse after the game. Referring to Drummond and backup cener Zaza Pachulia, complaining about them flopping to draw fouls and saying, “At the end of the day, I kicked both of their ass.”

Forget for a moment that Embiid has already received an official warning from the NBA about flopping. His bragging and denigrating of his opponents can lead to nothing but trouble. I understand that Embiid is an emotional player, but he needs to be able to control those emotions, particularly with regard to his comments and posts on social media.


SARIC STRUGGLING: One player who is clearly struggling is Dario Saric. He is shooting just 33 percent while averaging 9.4 points per game. The slow start has been attributed, in part, to Saric’s participation with Croatia’s national team during the offseason. The Sixers will be a better team when the versatile Saric finds his legs and becomes a bigger contributor on offense.


FORGOTTEN MAN: Remember how much better the Sixers were against the Celtics during the playoffs when T.J. McConnell was on the court? McConnell played during crucial stretches at the end of games when this season began. But, with Fultz taking more of those minutes, McConnell has become a forgotten man. He is only averaging two points and didn’t play at all in two games.


ROOKIE CONTRIBUTIONS: Rookie guard Landry Shamet, the Sixers’ first-round draft pick out of Wichita State, is averaging seven points per game. He is making 41.4 percent of his shots, including 38.1 percent from 3-point range. Shamet appears to have the versatility at guard, able to play point and off the ball, that Markelle Fultz doesn’t possess.


CHANDLER’S DEBUT: Wilson Chandler, signed as a free agent, finally made his Sixers’ debut during Saturday’s 109-99 triumph over the Pistons after missing the first nine games with a hamstring injury. Chandler, who was limited to 10 minutes, did not score in his debut.


ROSE RISES: Derrick Rose reminded everyone of the promise he once had before injuries sidetracked his career when he poured in 50 points Wednesday during the Timberwolves’ victory over the Jazz. Unfortunately, the good feeling was short-lived. Rose scored just three points in five first-quarter minutes Friday before exiting the Timberwolves’ loss to the Warriors due to ankle soreness.


LOOKAHEAD: The Sixers complete the second half of back-to-back games Sunday (6 p.m.) when they visit the Nets. They will travel to Indiana for a game Wednesday (8 p.m.) with the Pacers, who defeated the Celtics on Saturday. The Sixers will then return home Friday (7 p.m.) to face the Hornets before traveling to Memphis on Saturday (8 p.m.) in yet another back-to-back game situation.

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