SHENZHEN, China — Coach Brett Brown remains committed to keeping guard Markelle Fultz in the Philadelphia 76ers‘ starting lineup but is considering bringing last year’s No. 1 overall pick off the bench to begin the second half of games.
Brown experimented with that rotation during the 76ers’ 115-112 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Philadelphia’s preseason finale on Monday.
After picking up four fouls in the first half, Fultz came off the bench in the third quarter. JJ Redick, who started for last season’s 52-win team, replaced him in the starting lineup.
“It didn’t have anything to do with Markelle being in foul trouble,” Brown said. “Part of my responsibility is to be able to put these guys in environments with different combinations and try to figure that out as quickly as I’m able. I believe that Markelle is at his best with the ball, and so when you watch how I substitute and determine patterns, when you bring him off the bench in the second half you’re able to get him like four or five more minutes as a point guard. I believe it’s something that we’ll continue to look at. Again, it was done for that reason.”
Redick playing with the rest of the Sixers’ starters has proven to be a potent lineup. According to NBA Advanced Statistics, that group outscored opponents by 268 points in 601 minutes last season, the best plus-minus of any five-man lineup in the league by a margin of 99 points.
Asked if he was sticking with Fultz to start games, Brown said, “I am. I am.”
Fultz fouled out in 19 minutes in the loss to the Mavericks, ending an underwhelming preseason for him on the heels of a rookie season in which he was sidelined for 68 games by a shoulder injury and mysterious deterioration of his shooting mechanics and fell out of Philadelphia’s playoff rotation.
Fultz averaged 9.0 points on 43.2 percent shooting in the preseason, making 1-of-5 3-point attempts, a particularly significant statistic after he attempted only one 3-pointer in his abbreviated rookie campaign. Fultz had as many turnovers (10) as assists in the four preseason games.
“It’s really what I expected,” Brown said of the progress he saw from Fultz in the preseason. “He’s 20 years old, it’s the NBA. You know, you’re going to see ups and downs. I think the best thing for me is the fact that he’s a willing defender. He lets us coach him. I think he’s shown improvement and tremendous heart in picking up other ball carriers, other point guards. And I think that we’re all going to have to step back and be realistic/patient with a 20-year-old’s growth.”
Fultz was not available to the media after Monday’s game in China, where the NBA’s normal locker room access rules do not apply. Earlier in the trip, he said that he expected to earn the league’s Most Improved Player Award this season because of the work he put in during the offseason.
“I’m more mentally and physically ready for the season,” Fultz said. “It was more physical than mental. I had to get physically right, and that’s what made my mental get better. Just like anybody, if you hurt something, you start thinking about it. The first thing I had to do was get all the injuries settled and everything like that. Once I started feeling better with my body, my mind started working better.
“I’m very confident going into the season. Like I’ve said plenty of times before, I put in hours and hours and hours of shots up in the gym, just working on everything, so I’m pretty confident going into the season.”