After months of uncertainty about his status, Markelle Fultz returned to action for the Sixers on Monday night, with head coach Brett Brown making the surprise announcement just a couple hours before opening tip. Fultz’s night got off to a shaky start when he committed a quick turnover and air-balled his first jump shot, but he finished with 10 points and eight assists in just 14 minutes, contributing a few clips to the game’s highlight reel.
It was a long road back for Fultz, who appeared in just four games at the start of the regular season before being shut down due to shoulder issues — and to rebuild his jumper. For a time, it looked like the Sixers may just keep Fultz on the shelf for the rest of the season, playing it safe as they’d done in past seasons with key players like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
However, after last year’s No. 1 overall pick visited the University of Washington during last month’s All-Star break, he returned to Philadelphia focused on getting back on the court this season, according to Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports. When he told Brown before Monday’s game that he was ready to go, the 76ers head coach was thrilled to get him back in the lineup and was a little emotional when he made the announcement, as Derek Bodner of The Athletic details.
Fultz’s return is exactly what was needed not just for Fultz himself but for team president Bryan Colangelo, writes Sean Deveney of The Sporting News. As Deveney outlines, a segment of Sixers fans attribute the team’s current success solely to former GM Sam Hinkie, rather than assigning any credit to Colangelo. Considering last summer’s trade for Fultz was the biggest risk Colangelo has taken during his tenure in Philadelphia, he had a lot hinging on the point guard’s recovery. Monday night’s performance in Denver looked like a solid first step toward that move paying off.
Still, with the Sixers set to open the postseason in less than three weeks, it remains to be seen whether they can count on Fultz to play a major role during those playoff games. Philadelphia’s roster is somewhat short on playmakers, so in the view of David Murphy of Philly.com, Fultz is someone who can help. But the extent of the rookie’s role down the stretch remains a question mark.
What do you think? Is it a risk to count on Fultz in the postseason? Will he hold his own as Simmons’ backup at the point? Will he be ready to take on an even larger role by the time the playoffs begin? How has his unusual rookie season affected your view of his long-term potential?
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