CAMDEN – During the 76ers’ summer league mini-camp last week, Markelle Fultz demanded a lot of media attention, pretty understandable given that the rookie combo guard was, after all, the No. 1 pick in the June 22nd draft. Without question, he represents one of the most compelling prospects set to hit this year’s summer league circuit.
By the end of three days worth of two-a-day practice sessions at the Sixers’ training complex in Camden, Fultz had been introduced to plenty of new information – about offensive and defensive concepts, and tendencies of his summer league teammates. Over the weekend, the 19-year old said he felt ready to pour his efforts into the next few weeks of competition, and find out more about the areas in which he needs to improve.
Most of all, he expressed a desire to have fun.
“Having the chance to play the game of basketball, getting chemistry with the team, learning the plays and learning what I’m capable of,” Fultz told reporters Saturday, when asked about his summer league goals. “Just giving it my all, and see what I need to work out before the season starts.”
Coincidentally enough, Monday evening in Salt Lake City (7:00 PM EST), the Sixers will open their three-game Utah Jazz Summer League slate against the Boston Celtics. It was a June 19th trade with the C’s that ultimately paved the way for the Sixers to move up to the top spot in the draft, and turn Fultz into the fourth No. 1 pick in franchise history.
In the month leading up to the draft, Boston was the first of three organizations that Fultz agreed to visit. He later traveled to Los Angeles to meet with the Lakers, before working out for the Sixers in Camden on June 17th.
Fultz said he plans to treat Monday’s pairing with Jayson Tatum (the 2017 No. 3 selection), Jaylen Brown (No. 3 in 2016), and the Celtics like “just another team on the schedule.”
“I’m definitely excited to play against them,” said Fultz. “It’s another opportunity for me to play a game of basketball, so I’m going to come out and give it my all, just like I would any other game.”
Monday evening’s contest at Jon M. Huntsman Center, home of the University of Utah Runnin’ Utes, will be noteworthy for Fultz on two fronts. Not only will the outing mark a professional debut of sorts, but it will also be his first game of any kind since February 18th.
As a freshman at Washington, Fultz averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game. He ranked sixth in the nation in scoring, and could very likely see reps Monday both at point guard, and shooting guard, too.
“There will be possessions where Markelle will be in the game with Larry Drew, who is a dominant ball-handler, and they’re going to have to learn how to play with each other,” said Billy Lange, the Sixers’ assistant and director of player development who will be coaching the team in Utah. “Then, there will be possessions when Markelle is probably the primary, or dominant, ball-handler.”
When playing off the ball, concentration is the key, Fultz said. In his eyes, the trick is to keep moving, and not to get caught up “just ball-watching.”
“It’s been great,” Fultz said of his recent two-guard reps. “When I was in high school, I played multiple positions, all the way up to the four. So being versatile is one of the things that I worked on, so I can play more than one position.
“It’s pretty cool. I can score the ball easy, I can get other people involved easier. It’s just another part of the game that I’m learning to become the best player I can possibly be.”
That pursuit continues full speed ahead Monday night.
For all of the focus that was devoted to Fultz during the Sixers’ summer league mini-camp, there were a good number of other intriguing storylines to emerge as well. Here’s a round-up of a couple of them, in advance of Monday’s match-up with Boston.
Sixers Carrying Another Draft Pick, Too
Markelle Fultz isn’t the only 2017 draftee on the Sixers’ summer league roster. He’s got company in Jonah Bolden, chosen 36th overall.
Much like Fultz, the lanky, athletic 6-foot-10 forward found himself getting that much more settled with the Sixers as last week’s mini-camp progressed.
“The thing with the first day was just chemistry, and getting comfortable,” Bolden said last Friday. “Just getting to know and trusting the guys on my team, it just felt a lot better.”
Bolden, whose father played professionally in Australia against Ben Simmons’ dad, enjoyed a strong season in Serbia last year. He accounted for 12.6 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, while connecting on 40.5 percent of his 3-point tries (68-168).
Over the next few weeks, Bolden wants to show he was worthy of the Sixers’ selection.
“I feel like a lot of people see me as a mystery kid in the draft,” said Bolden, who spent two seasons at UCLA before turning pro. “I feel like I have a lot to prove, and summer league is a great opportunity for that.”
Poythress Aims to Build Off Strong Finish
Alex Poythress might have only spent two weeks with the Sixers in 2016-2017, but he certainly turned heads during the team’s final six games, averaging 10.7 points and 4.8 boards in 26.2 minutes per contest.
The frontcourt tweener from Kentucky even made one start – the Sixers’ April 12th finale against the New York Knicks. That night at Madison Square Garden, he went for a career-best 18 points, and six rebounds.
Poythress racked up 33 total points over his last two appearances with the Sixers, and zoomed into the rest of the spring and summer with momentum. He hasn’t spent too much time away from the team’s training complex in Camden.
“I went home a couple weeks, then came right back up here,” Poythress said. “Just worked out with the coaches, and keep on building all those relationships, establish that connection, and just show them I want to be here.”
Poythress, who played at Kentucky for four seasons before going undrafted last spring, competed in the Orlando Pro Summer League in 2016. Now 23 years old and boasting some NBA and NBA G League experience on his resume, he knows he’ll be viewed as one of the Summer Sixers’ veterans.
Providing leadership, he said, hasn’t always been easy, especially the vocal part.
“It comes natural now,” said Poythress. “I had to learn it in college, just leading by example and talking to people, and making sure they know what they’re doing.”
Drew Back in the Mix
In terms of age, 27-year old Larry Drew II is without question the old head among the Summer Sixers. The point guard has spent the majority of his professional career in the NBA G League, but, in recent seasons, has taken advantage of several opportunities overseas, too.
One leg of Drew’s basketball journey brought him to Philadelphia midway through the 2014-2015 campaign. He logged 12 appearances for the Sixers.
“He’s a great passer, a willing passer, he gets the ball up the court,” said Billy Lange. “So much of a summer league team’s joy is found in the point guard, and L.D., he can get rid of the ball. There’s no problem passing the ball to people.”
Markelle Fultz said Friday that having a seasoned point guard like Drew II in the fold makes life easier.
“I think my game has improved in a lot of areas,” said Drew II, whose father is the associate head coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers. “I played in Europe for two years, and I got to see the game from a different perspective. It added some things to my game that I didn’t have before, like a jump shot. I shoot the ball way better than I used to.”
Drew II posted 8.5 points and 5.4 assists in 41 games overseas in 2016-2017.
Miles Eager to Make Summer League Return
This time last year, Isaiah Miles was fresh out of college, and on the cusp of making his summer league debut with the Dallas Mavericks. The undrafted Saint Joseph’s product, who was named the Atlantic 10’s Most Improved Player following a breakout 2015-2016 season, ultimately ended up in France, where he delivered a quality showing.
Not only did Miles, a Baltimore native, hold his own by generating 12.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per game for Dijon Basket, he nailed 59 threes on 46.8 percent shooting from behind the arc. He believes his touch, which he considers “elite” for a big man, is a distinguishing trait [of note, Miles holds the SJU record for career free throw percentage].
“I’ve always felt confident in my shooting,” said Miles, one of the Sixers’ pre-draft workout invitees in 2016. “I will continue to feel confident in it. I feel like that’s what gets me head and shoulders over the other bigs. Also, showing things like getting to the basket, and other ways of scoring. Just showing the coaches and GMs that I can play defense, and fit their system.”