NBA Summer League’s product isn’t usually exciting. The quality of basketball looks like a bunch of non-NBA players trying to make an impression on NBA teams. That’s the nature of the league. NBA rookies and some second-year players, however, sometimes demonstrate why many expect them to eventual be superstar-type players. Jaylen Brown owned the first game against the 76ers Monday, prompting many to say he shouldn’t even play the remaining summer league games for the Celtics. Jayson Tatum flashed his scoring potential, particularly late, as Boston used a late surge to complete a comeback win. Tatum, the third pick in the 2017 draft, had the eventual game winner. The 76ers’ top pick, Markelle Fultz, was supposed to be a Celtic as last month’s draft approached. But Danny Ainge thought Tatum was the better prospect, trading picks and receiving a sweet future first via the 76ers. Monday’s game then wasn’t just Markelle’s first NBA-action it was his first opportunity to show Ainge he made a mistake.
Fultz had a chance to win the game for the 76ers, but Brown made sure that didn’t happen with a wonderful defensive play. Fultz, however, looked every bit as good as advertised. He made pulled-up jumpers, used a nifty spin to finish inside and even though the stat sheet said one assist he had a number of nice passes. His feel for the game was evident from his first bucket:
Fultz played off ball more often than expected. It makes sense since the 76ers will use Ben Simmons at lead guard often. Philly wants Fultz to grow comfortable with playing off ball, and he did look comfortable, especially here:
His finishing needs to be better. He missed a few shots close. None of them were particularly clean looks, but the best NBA players make difficult shots look easy. The spin move he had that led to a basket in the second half was beautiful.
He finished with four turnovers, but frankly it didn’t seem like he committed that many. None of his turnovers were egregious. Sometimes in summer league it’s difficult for rookies to make their teammates better because their teammates are usually not very good. But that’s not the case for the 76ers. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot dropped 16 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished five assists. TLC played exceptional in April for the 76ers, so it was good to see him continue that high play in the summer. The 76ers need consistent wing play surrounding Simmons, Fultz and Embiid, and TLC looks capable of providing some.
Jonah Bolden surprised many with his athleticism. He blocked four shots, and played like he belonged on the court. It’s unclear his situation, especially since the 76ers have 15 players (Furkan Korkmaz says he’s coming over but the 76ers haven’t confirmed), but the 76ers will definitely be able to use Bolden in the future. Bolden recently signed a contract with KK Crvena Zvezda. Bryan Colangelo said on draft night none of the rookies drafted, besides Fultz, would play for the 76ers this season. With the addition of Amir Johnson reported over the weekend, Bolden might not be a need this season, but he flashed why Philly fans should be thrilled about adding him in the future.
Watching Fultz only sparingly during his freshman year of college, his defense was something to watch in his NBA summer debut. His defense didn’t disappoint, especially his ability to block shots.
He had three, and he didn’t do a terrible job staying in front of his man, either. Fultz will be lost at times defensively, but that’s just the nature of being a rookie. If he’s able to block shots like he did Monday night with his 6-10 reach, he’ll be fine as a NBA defender. There are legitimate concerns pairing Fultz with Redick in the backcourt defensively. Redick played an important role in the Clippers top-10 defense, but it’s easy to hide Redick playing alongside one of the better defensive point guards in NBA history. Covington’s on-ball defense should help Philadelphia, and a healthy Embiid would make a team filled with even replacement level NBA talent a top defense, because Embiid’s just that good.
His comfort on the court looked evident from the jump. It’s encouraging to see Fultz play offense because the skill is all there. He can do a little bit of everything. Moving forward, it would be nice to see Fultz finish consistently around the rim. He’ll have plenty of opportunities in the remaining summer league games. His jumper looked really solid, even though one of his makes was a banked three from the top of the key. Fultz just looks so in control on the court. His 17 points were a nice springboard. He’ll have another opportunity Wednesday night against the Jazz.
Featured Photo Credited to @Sixers