It’s hard to believe – and even harder to remember – that Markelle Fultz appeared in four games for the 76ers this season.
He even scored 24 points.
Since then, Fultz’s right shoulder has been under heavy scrutiny. The soreness has left him on the bench instead of where No. 1 overall draft picks need to be … on the court.
The Sixers traded up to acquire the 19-year-old point guard from the University of Washington. The teenager has been forced to deal with an injury and criticism from this passionate fan base.
Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Fultz were supposed to become the young and up-and-coming trio for this growing franchise. The Sixers improved to 18-19 with a nice win over the depleted San Antonio Spurs Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Embiid and Simmons had terrific games while Fultz continued to watch from the bench.
Earlier this week, the Sixers sent out a very cryptic press release about Fultz’s recovery and potential timetable to return. But details were sorely lacking.
Fultz did manage to play in 4-on-4 halfcourt drills and some light 1-on-1 practice as well.
Before being sidelined, Fultz’s shot looked awkward. Perhaps the shoulder soreness caused a hitch in the shot. Perhaps it was a mental block. This much was certain: Fultz didn’t look right. He hardly resembled a No. 1 overall pick.
The Sixers need Fultz to come back and play well before this season concludes. They don’t necessarily need him to return tomorrow. Or the next day. Or even before the All-Star break.
They do need him.
“I'm excited because he completely connects the dots to what we don't have,” Sixers coach Brett Brown told reporters. “Anybody that can create their own shot, anybody that can create something for somebody else is of extreme value to the collection of what we do. That is his skill set.”
Embiid, Simmons and Fultz must play together to gain that much-needed chemistry. It’s vital moving forward if they’re going to grow together. It will also give Fultz a confidence boost.
Fultz needs to know that he can play at a high level. He also needs the trust of his teammates, especially the cornerstones like Embiid and Simmons.
At Washington, Fultz was the best player on the team. In Fultz’s one season in college basketball, he was one of the top players in the country. There were a bevy of reasons why he was the top pick chosen in the draft.
The Sixers will become so much better with Fultz in the lineup. He must be physically healthy and mentally confident. Anything less will not be sufficient.
There’s not an immediate rush to incorporate Fultz into the lineup. Working him in though is imperative.
Four games is simply not enough of a sample size.