Okay, repeat after me: *breathe in, breathe out*
After just two games of Sixers action, the overreactions are in full swing.
“Fultz is a bust!”
“The loss of Belinelli and Ilyasova is going to haunt this team all season!”
Folks, the NBA season is 82 games long, if you don’t pace yourselves, your heart won’t make it to the All-Star break.
“We’re NEVER going to beat the Celtics!”
One more time, repeat after me: *breathe in, breathe out*
The Sixers are a very good basketball team, as clearly seen last night’s 127-108 domination of the Chicago Bulls. The Sixers have enough young talent to coast through the regular season without any struggles whatsoever, if they so choose.
That’s not what this season is about, though. This year is about striving for greatness, and that potential for greatness comes largely at the hands of one Markelle Fultz. Fultz’s well documented rookie season has obviously put a damper on what might have been a perfect fit with this Sixers squad, but look, we’re here now, and we have to deal with the reality of the situation.
Against the Celtics, Fultz looked lost. He started the game and was a non-factor in 24 minutes. His defense was solid, but offensively, Fultz was timid and seemed to be completely uninvolved unless he had the ball in his hands. He had as many turnovers and fouls as he did made field goals and assists.
It was a rocky start for Fultz’s comeback, but that was to be expected. If coming into the first game of the season, you thought that Fultz was going to go on a scoring spree, dominating a Celtics team that he couldn’t even get on the floor to play against last postseason, you simply have not been paying attention.
Fultz’s development as a three level scorer is incredibly important to the development of the team for obvious reasons. In order for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to reach their full potential, the Sixers need a stable of shooters to stretch the floor and someone who can get a bucket when the game is on the line.
Their lack of those two elements was clear in their playoff loss to the Boston Celtics last May, and a similar theme during Tuesday night’s performance left a bad taste in Sixers fan’s mouths. Many felt as though the Sixers had done nothing to catch up with the Celtics this offseason, and that heartbreaking series was bound to repeat itself again this postseason.
This is a supreme overreaction, simply based on the fact that the sample size is so small. It’s like writing off a movie that you’ve wanted to see for months as terrible after the first minute. In addition to the inevitable rust that Fultz experienced, the Sixers three key offseason additions (Mike Muscala, Wilson Chandler, and Zhaire Smith) did not play at all due to injury. The Celtics may be a better team at the moment, but writing the season off after a single game is ridiculous.
Last night, Fultz’s performance was not one that would usually be talked about with such positivity. He shot 33% from the floor and scored 12 points in 32 minutes. But, if you look at last night’s game in context of this bizarre storyline, it was a very important step for Fultz.
In Fultz’s case, being comfortable enough to fire off a 3-pointer off the dribble in a regular season game is more important than the fact that it went in. This sort of analysis may seem ridiculous to some fans, but there’s not much about this Sixers team that hasn’t been ridiculous over the last five years.
Brett Brown, the only constant for the Sixers throughout the Process era, has been very supportive of Fultz through his struggles. Even after a dismal performance against Boston, Brown started Fultz against the Bulls and gave him more opportunities to handle the ball and prove himself.
“Markelle is going to have steady slow growth,” said Brown directly after the loss to Boston. “Sometimes he’s going to be just incredible, other times he’s going to be just a part of the NBA at a pretty young age, on a pretty good team.”
Brown’s measured confidence in his players has been a steadying force for a team that has gone through as much adversity as the Sixers have through his tenure. In the two seasons that Joel Embiid sat out, Brown preached patience, marveling at the big man’s incredible skill, and the fans stood by him. While Ben Simmons was injured for the entirety of his rookie year, Brown raved about the Aussie’s potential as a point guard, and the Process Faithful kept their trust.
Trust the Process
This season is no different. The Sixers may be a much better team now than before they arrived as a playoff team last season, but they are still in development mode. Even just last season, the team was on a five game losing streak, sitting at 14-18 entering Christmas day. People were unsure about the team. Is Ben Simmons a viable point guard in the NBA? Will Joel Embiid ever stay healthy? Is Brett Brown the coach to elevate this team to the playoffs?
It takes teams time to get comfortable together, even the great ones. It takes players time to get comfortable on the floor, especially after going through what Markelle Fultz has been through. This era of the Philadelphia 76ers has been marked by patience, and there’s no reason to stop that now. We all believed in this Process, and while some may say that it ended as the tenure of Sam Hinkie did, the assets he acquired still live on today, as should the patience he developed for our city’s fans.
After Christmas, the Sixers began to play their best basketball, figuring out each other’s tendencies on the court and making the most out of their talent. The team jumped from 28 wins to 52, from the 14th to 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference.
There is no reason to believe that a similar jump could not happen again this year. With Fultz entering a mulligan rookie year, Embiid returning after his first fully healthy offseason, and Simmons continuing to do the things that made him the runaway Rookie of the Year last season, the Sixers are primed for their best team in decades and one game against the Boston Celtics does not change that one bit.
Keep your heads up, guys. We’ve got a ton of excellent basketball coming our way this season, and even when the shots aren’t falling, neither is the sky.