Markelle Fultz stock watch: The confidence is growing


Every week this season, we’ll be taking a look at Markelle Fultz and how the 2017 No. 1 overall pick is progressing through his second NBA season.

The roller-roaster ride continues for Fultz and the Sixers.

It was disappointing to see Fultz lose minutes to T.J. McConnell against the Pistons Tuesday. Fultz appeared to be getting his swagger back a bit, hitting a couple jumpers — including his second three of the season. McConnell wound up logging 32 minutes to Fultz’s 21. The fact that the Sixers lost the game made the sting of Fultz not playing worse.

The game in Milwaukee illustrated the issue Brett Brown is going to have this season. Fultz looked tentative, sluggish and a bit overmatched. During one sequence, Fultz turned the ball over, dribbling off his own foot and leading to a Bucks’ fast break. That’s fine. These things happen to a young player. What should never happen is Fultz moping over it and not getting back on defense.

In addition to that play, he struggled mightily on defense. On two occasions he allowed Malcolm Brogdon to blow by him and get to the basket. Brogdon is a fine player, but he’s not what you would call explosive. He also didn’t put much of a move on Fultz. Fultz looked flat footed and not ready to defend on either play. Perhaps there's something to be said for him playing in the back-to-back situation, but not an encouraging performance.

The numbers weren’t eye-popping but you could make the argument that the game vs. Charlotte Saturday was Fultz’s best on the young season. There’s a big difference between being passive and letting the game come to you. Fultz appeared to be in the latter category during this game. 

Fultz looked active and springy on both ends of the floor. 

This play stands out above the rest.

You have to love the aggressiveness in taking the ball to the hoop and being ready to finish. There was also an extraordinarily rare show of emotion after this slam. 

I’d expect Fultz’s weeks to look similar for a while. He’s going to show flashes of the guy that was the No. 1 pick but will also make mistakes that come with inexperience. There are still nuances of the game you’d like to see Fultz improve upon.

For instance, he’s excelled in the open court. That’s great for Brown’s up-tempo style, but it can also be rough in the half court, as my teammate Noah Levick alluded to. The problem is magnified when he’s on the floor with Ben Simmons. Unfortunately there’s no perfect solution here. Fultz has to get better at moving away from the ball and finding open spaces on the floor. If he does, Simmons has the vision to find him for easy buckets.

Another trend that is somewhat discouraging, is Fultz struggling to play with the team's star players. Fultz, Simmons and Joel Embiid played just five minutes together vs. Charlotte and had a minus-49 net rating (which measures the point differential per 100 possessions). On the season, the trio has a minus-13 net rating. Even if you don’t quite understand the stat, it’s pretty clear that a minus-13 is not good. They need to figure out how to play together if the Sixers want to optimize their rotation.

If Fultz plays the way he did against the Hornets, it’ll make Brown’s job a lot easier. Let’s hope we’re talking about more games like that in next week’s stock watch.

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