This is the play that had all of Philadelphia buzzing.
It’s not just that this was Markelle Fultz‘s first made three as a Sixer, it’s that he took it without hesitation and showing a smooth form. It is the first expression of all the potential that made him the No. 1 pick back in 2017, the guy who was going to be the third star along with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in Philadelphia.
After most of a season spent sidelined with an injury and trying to get out of his own head, Fultz went to shot guru Drew Hanlen this summer and stripped his shot down and built it back up. While it may not be as smooth as his jumper in college at Washington, he is shooting it with confidence now, and that’s a start.
It’s progress, but there is still a long way to go. Fultz is 1-of-5 from three through three preseason games. He’s shooting a pedestrian 43.3 percent overall in the preseason.
Is it enough to lift the Sixers up and challenge Boston this season? No. And that’s a high bar to clear anyway.
Which is why Philadelphia made no secret of the fact they went big game hunting in free agency last summer and took a swing at landing Kawhi Leonard via trade. They wanted to add a third star, and Fultz’s name appeared in a plethora of trade rumors. Nothing came of any of it.
Fultz says now he wants to be that third star.
“I kind of like when people doubt me and say, ‘Look for another star,’ I see myself as that player. I just work every day to become better. I really don’t look at other people’s goals, but I definitely look at it to see myself as that next player that can step up in that role.”
If Fultz is going to be that guy, the jump shot has to be smooth and a weapon. While Joel Embiid can knock down a three, he needs to be around the basket being a beast to truly impact the game. Ben Simmons is not a threat to space the floor. Even with J.J. Redick and whoever else is out there for the Sixers, Brett Brown cannot play three guys at once who are not shooters, which means no Fultz with the other stars if he can’t consistently knock down jumpers, particularly from three.
So far this preseason, Fultz has looked improved from last season (a low bar to clear) but not where the Sixers need him to be to truly be a huge threat in the East. Yet, at least. We don’t know how Fultz and this season will develop, but right now Boston is on its own plain in the East, and the Raptors may be the second-best team if Leonard can play at the level we have started to see from him this preseason. Philly — who also gave up some shooting this summer letting Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belleneli go — have some holes to fill to stay as one of the top threats in the East.
Fultz is going to be asked to fill those hold and fill up the bucket with his jumper.
For this season, that seems a big ask.