The Philadelphia 76ers are less than 10 games into the 2018-19 season and fans are already calling for Brett Brown's job and pushing for more Markelle Fultz.
During Tuesday's gut-wrenching loss in Detroit, Fultz played his best game of the young season. He scored 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting, including a triple, while also grabbing six rebounds and blocking a shot. As the game progressed through the second half, Fultz was absent as Brett Brown opted to go with T.J. McConnell in the close game.
"I thought he did okay. In fact, I thought at times he looked really good," Brown said about Fultz's performance. "We ended up going with TJ for defensive reasons. We've learned that TJ, defensively, has that NBA experience."
Hard to really get the NBA experience to play in those moments if you are relegated to the bench after playing confidently for 21 minutes of the game.
"That's coach's decision," said Fultz. "I don't really know. I feel like I'm doing everything I can right now, but that's up to him."
Ben Simmons missed the game with a tight back, so Fultz had the ball in his hands from the start and he looked confident. He pulled up and hit a jumper for the first points of the game and even drained an open corner three with ease in the first half.
Fultz looked good driving to the rim and again, just played with a swagger we haven't seen to this point. Him being on the bench towards the end of the game is a head-scratcher and instead of blaming Brett Brown, perhaps it is time to start wondering if Fultz is really a fit in Philadelphia long-term.
Markelle has less than 20 regular season games under his belt. I get that. At the same time, we've seen on numerous occasions that he is better with the ball in his hands as it helps him establish a rhythm from the start. Sounds like he believes that too.
"Being at the 1, I had a chance to start the game off with the ball in my hands alot," Fultz said. "I just looked to attack, get downhill and if I had my shot, I was looking for it."
During the next question, Fultz also mentioned this:
"I'm pretty good with the ball in my hands."
See, this is where the issue of fit comes into the question. It isn't even necessarily based off of what he's done this season, but rather what position he's best in to succeed. Right now, that's the point guard spot. Unfortunately, that is Ben Simmons' role in the starting five. So, what now?
So far this season, the Sixers have started a lineup that includes both Simmons and Fultz, but perhaps that isn't the best idea. Markelle looks almost lost playing off-ball with the starters. The best route for Fultz's development at this point could likely be running the second unit primarily while also getting in some off-ball work with the starters as the game progresses. It's no surprise that he gets more comfortable the more he has the ball, so put him in that spot to build confidence, even if it is with the bench guys.
The issue right now is that it doesn't look like the Sixers really have a plan for what they want him to be yet and that isn't good for the development of a young player who has confidence issues. Barring something drastic, there won't be a change in what Ben Simmons does, so it is important to find out where Fultz fits best, or if he fits at all, with the team in the future. He has the ability to develop into a good NBA player, but sitting in favor of guys like McConnell, who we all know is a Process hero, just doesn't make sense right now in the first month of the season.
He's only 20 years old, yes, but the Sixers need to find out what they have in Fultz sooner rather than later. They have a little more room for error in the earlier months of the season, so sacrificing a couple of games at the expense of his development isn't the worst idea. At the same time, this team wants to eclipse their 52 win total from last year, so it'll be up to Brett Brown to strategically decide how he plans to handle Fultz's development. At this point in time, fans don't seem too pleased with how it has been handled thus far, but it's early and Fultz is far from a finished product. We'll see if things change in the coming weeks.