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Philly sports column: Sixers bounce back, Fultz settling in

Brett Brown and the Philadelphia 76ers got off to a so-so start to the 2018-2019 season. The Sixers fell to the Boston Celtics on opening night in Boston 87-105, and also defeated the Chicago Bulls 127-108 in Philadelphia on Thursday. To cap off the week, Philadelphia defeated the Orlando Magic in a thrilling 116-115 contest. The start to the season was as many expected it would be—Markelle Fultz shows promise but still needs to improve in a number of areas, Ben Simmons is looking to average a triple double a game and Joel Embiid is already starting to put up MVP-caliber numbers.

Although Embiid was critical of his team’s performance against Boston to start the season, the All-Star center did his part to make sure Philly put up a fight. Embiid had a double-double against the Celtics, compiling 23 points and 10 rebounds with two assists and two blocks. He also had two more  double doubles against Chicago and Orlando, scoring 30 points and 12 rebounds against the Bulls and 32 points and 10 rebounds versus the Magic. If he continues to put up these kinds of numbers, Jojo will definitely be in the MVP mix come springtime.

Despite these numbers, Embiid does have some areas in which he’ll need to tighten up his game moving forward. For starters, the always confident big man has gone 1-7 on three point attempts, suggesting that perhaps it’s time to work the pump fake and drive back into his routine. Embiid, like the rest of the team, also needs to work on limiting his turnovers as he had five against the Celtics and two against the Bulls. While many of these mistakes are a byproduct of Embiid’s fearless style of play, the missed opportunities add up against teams like Boston and can be debilitating when the Sixers are trailing in games.

Without a doubt, Simmons has been the bright spot to the season so far. Simmons played all but five minutes in the opener against Boston and was two assists shy of a triple double with 19 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists. Against the Bulls, Simmons did even more with less time on the court scoring 13 points, 11 assists and 13 rebounds. The 2017-2018 Rookie of the Year has looked dominant, slamming dunks, making no look passes in the paint and using his length on defense to get steals and blocks; tallying five steals and four blocks thus far. Simmons suffered a minor back injury against Orlando on Saturday, and we can only hope that the injury won’t keep him sidelined for too long.

Regarding Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia fans will unanimously agree that the second year player is a work in progress—however, opinions vary as to how much work needs to be done. A common pattern for Fultz seems to be his lack of confidence taking shots from beyond the perimeter. During the games against Boston and Chicago, Fultz had clear looks from deep where he chose to drive to the rim rather than shoot the open three. This style hasn’t sat particularly well with the Philly faithful, who get louder and louder each time Fultz has the ball, especially on Thursday against the Bulls when the crowd erupted after Fultz finally made a three pointer in the fourth quarter.

Fultz, who has always been more of a rhythm shooter, will need to get better taking shots off the pass. Ironically, Fultz appears to make more shots when the defensive pressure is up against him and he can take mid-range jumper as opposed to when he has space and can firmly set his feet. Perhaps this is a result of his off-season training, but with Simmons and Embiid controlling the space in the paint and finding plenty of ways to dish the ball out wide, Fultz will need to get better at taking the catch and shoot if he wants to win more playing time than his counterpart at shooting guard, J.J Reddick.

Additionally, Fultz will need to show more hustle on the defensive end of things and continue to make the most of his drives to the rim. Fultz can be shaky on his layups at times and tends to miss the opportunity to rebound the ball on defense. The season is still young, but we can only hope that Fultz continues to grow as a well-rounded player and come into his own as a 76er.

It feels like an insult to say, but the number one pick of the 2017 NBA Draft is being treated like a nervous kid on a junior varsity middle school team. Sure we can celebrate when he makes a three pointer, but shouldn’t we expect better from a player that our scouting department thought so highly of? Seeing how J.J Reddick absolutely went off against the Magic on Saturday, scoring 31 points and going 8-13 on three pointers, fans may be looking for him to return to the starting lineup if they don’t start seeing more from Fultz.

Andrew Heller is a second-year graduate student majoring in English.

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