SALT LAKE CITY – There were up-fakes and duck-ins, determined drives and elusive spin-moves, confident pull-up 3-pointers and bouncy, smooth mid-range jumpshots.
In a little more than 22 minutes of action in his first game of any kind with the 76ers, Markelle Fultz displayed an array of offensive possibilities on 16 shot attempts (he sunk six), finishing with a team-best 17 points.
But for as much as his scoring prowess showed through in the Sixers’ 89-88 loss to the Boston Celtics in Monday’s Utah Jazz Summer League opener, so too did Fultz’s contributions on the opposite end of the court. He guarded with purpose, and, most notably, delivered several ooh-and-aah worthy chasedown blocks – a signature play of his during his lone season at Washington.
Fultz’s first swat in Monday’s contest came quickly. Within the opening 30 seconds, the 19-year old found himself trying to recover after getting tied up on a perimeter pick. He was successful, hawking down Demetrius Jackson on the baseline to turn aside a lay-up attempt.
About a minute later, Fultz stonewalled Jackson again. Flying down the weakside in hopes of catching up with the fast-breaking C’s, the No. 1 overall pick reaped the rewards of his own hustle, as he managed to deny Jackson from behind once more.
Fultz’s third and final block of the night came midway through the third period. The rejection, like the two that preceded it, was emphatic. This time, the victim was Celtics’ second-rounder Kadeem Allen.
“I love chase down blocks, blocking shots,” Fultz said Monday, following the Sixers’ setback.
Fultz – at just 6-foot-4, 195 pounds – posted 30 blocks in 25 games a year ago. His 1.2 blocks per game was good enough to rank 10th among all players in the Pac-12.
“That’s one thing on the defensive end I’m always going to give effort on both ends of the floor,” said Fultz. “I think that’s one thing that goes unnoticed – how hard I play on both ends.”
“He knows that the general public thinks that [defense] is a weakness of his, so he’s out to try to prove that wrong,” said Billy Lange, the Sixers’ assistant in charge of the team during its stint in Salt Lake City. “We’re Philly – we talk about competing, we talk about effort. He wants to be a Sixer, he is a Sixer, so he’s jumping in with both feet in terms of giving his effort and competing on every play.”
Fultz first discovered his shot-blocking talents in high school.
“Tenth grade, that’s when I realized that ‘s just one of the things I was good at, going after chase-down blocks,” Fultz said Tuesday, following the Sixers’ practice session at the University of Utah. “All it is is effort, really. It’s something I like to do. I had a little bit of success with it, just going into college, I tried to blocking a lot of shots too as a point guard.”
Lange, for one, isn’t surprised that some modest rim protection is part of Fultz’s overall package.
“He’s athletic and he’s competitive,” Lange said Tuesday. “First, you have to want to go do it, and then you have to have the ability to go do it.”
Fultz recognizes the value of the skill brings to the court, especially from someone out of the backcourt.
“You don’t see a lot of guards running after bigs, everybody trying to block a lot of shots,” he said. “It’s going to throw people off, and make everybody think when they’re driving to the basket.”
• During Markelle Fultz’s summer league debut, there was some noteworthy Twitter activity, particularly from the recently-minted MVP of this year’s NBA Finals.
What, exactly, is a “hesi pull-up jimbo,” you ask? Valid question, and it was posed to Fultz Tuesday morning.
“It’s just saying like a nice ‘hesi’ [hesitation] pull-up. Back in D.C., [it’s] D.M.V. [Washington, D.C; Maryland; Virginia area] talk, but a lot of basketball players talk like that, so it’s pretty funny.”
Like Durant, Fultz is a Maryland native, having been raised in the suburbs of the nation’s capital. The latter admired the former growing up, and the two have become close.
“Me and K.D. text all the time,” said Fultz. “He’s been like an older brother to me.”
• Billy Lange opted to go with a nine-man rotation in Monday’s Utah Jazz Summer League opener, resulting in five members of the Sixers’ roster not playing. The group consisted of guards Brandon Austin, James Blackmon Jr., and Melo Trimble, along with bigs Charles Jackson and Darryl Reynolds.
Tuesday, Lange indicated that come Wednesday, when the Sixers go up against the host Jazz, the personnel dynamic could change a bit.
“That’s the best way we feel to give everybody a fair chance to get enough minutes,” he said.
Lange also said Tuesday that while the Sixers will likely play Markelle Fultz Wednesday, the rookie could be held out of Thursday’s Jazz Summer League finale against the San Antonio Spurs.