The Philadelphia 76ers were considered by some to be a darkhorse favorite to make a deep playoff run in 2017 – 2018? How could they not? With a roster filled with lotto talents like Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Markelle Fultz the future was obviously bright. Add in solid depth talent like Robert Covington, an elite 3&D wing, and Dario Saric and you had a team destined to take the East by storm. Only that hasn’t happened. After 35 games the Philadelphia 76ers are 16 – 19 and only a few games better than the lowly Chicago Bulls. Why has the team struggled? Does Philadelphia have any hope going forward? The answer to both questions rests on the aching shoulders of rookie Markelle Fultz.
Philadelphia is comprised of enough talent so as to compete with anyone in the league. This is inarguable. However, their problem remains simple: the team simply is not gelling in a conducive way on offense and it is disrupting everything that Philadelphia is trying to do. Despite the abilities of Ben Simmons to play point-forward, thus creating massive mismatches, he is not suited for the task full-time. Simmons, much as he may be compared to LeBron, is not LeBron James. This is where Markelle Fultz comes into play. The #1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Fultz has yet to see meaningful minutes this season. Fultz has been sidelined pretty much all season long with a shoulder issue that is starting to look more like a mental hurdle. In any event, Fultz should be nearing the end of his rehabilitation with a return to the NBA roster in the near future.
In college, Fultz shot over 41% from downtown while averaging 23/6/6. With all of the talk surrounding Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons, and rightfully so, Fultz may be the most impactful of the bunch once he is on the court. Right now, Philadelphia lacks talented ball handlers that can actually make a scoring move. If Ben Simmons doesn’t have the rock then the defense knows it will be passed into the post for Embiid or Saric to try and make something happen. This causes Philly’s offense to get bogged down in poor possessions. A suddenly healthy Markelle Fultz would completely change the way that opposing defenses can read Philly’s offense. Suddenly, Fultz or Simmons could both drive and kick to any of their talented long-distance shooters.
While Fultz is only 19 years old, and shouldered with a burdensome injury, he is the future of Philly — and the 76ers need him now.