After missing the last 68 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are finally getting the first pick in the 2017 NBA Draft in Markelle Fultz back on the court.
Fultz will return to action tonight against the Denver Nuggets without a minutes restriction, per head coach Brett Brown, who mentioned that the decision to play tonight was entirely Fultz’s. Brown wounded up emotional talking about Fultz’s return to the media pre-game:
“It was [Markelle Fultz]’s decision,” Brown said. “It’s been fluid and I get goose-bumps telling you all that. I’m so proud of him. The people around him have done great things and I give that kid credit.”
With so much time missed this season, Philadelphia won’t be throwing him right back into the fire right away. Instead, he will serve in a bench role for the 76ers where his main duties will be to serve as the backup point guard to Ben Simmons, who is the favorite to take home Rookie of the Year honors this season and is also a former number one overall pick.
Now that Fultz will be worked into being the team’s backup point guard, that will likely move T.J. McConnell into an off-the ball role at the shooting guard spot. On average, Simmons is playing 34.2 minutes a night, which means it’s likely that Fultz’s minutes will range from 10-15 tonight.
The 19-year-old Fultz was shutdown by 76ers team physicians after the fourth game of the regular season with a shoulder injury. In those four games played by Fultz, it appeared he was struggling with his shot mechanics, and shot just 16.7% from the field on shots outside of three feet. Philadelphia has kept how Fultz suffered the shoulder issue private, and there is only pure speculation on why he struggled to use his mechanics like he always has.
Philadelphia clinched their first playoff berth since 2012 on Sunday, and the organization appears to have their sights set on Fultz making a big impact in the playoffs. Fultz will have 10 regular season games to prepare himself for the playoffs with the Indiana Pacers currently slated to be the team’s first-round opponent.
It looked like Fultz was going to be done for the season months ago, but according to ESPN, Fultz intensified his workouts over the past couple of weeks, and everything checked out okay medically and mentally for the Washington alum to return to action.
Regardless of how he plays tonight, the focus should just be on Fultz being fully-healthy once again. The 76ers believe his potential is through the roof, and will be great addition to their young core that already features Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric for years to come.
Fultz is averaging 6.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game this season. During his freshman season at Washington, Fultz averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game.
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