And in the 123-104 win over the Denver Nuggets on Monday, the number one overall pick showed flashes of what made him the consensus top prospect in the last year’s NBA draft, while also looking like someone who hadn’t seen game action in quite a while.
Fultz played just 14 minutes, but found a way to fill up the stat sheet in his brief time on the floor by scoring 10 points on 5-of-13 shooting, dishing eight assists and grabbing four rebounds.
His shooting, which has been under the microscope since he entered the league, got better as the game wore on, while his playmaking and ability to put pressure on the defence was as advertised.
With the 19-year-old coming back from a mysterious shoulder injury that has derailed most of his rookie campaign, it was an encouraging performance, all things considered.
“He showed signs of why he was the first player chosen,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “Obviously, the game is fast, and elite at this stage, and that’s a good team, but the night could not have worked out better.”
The night got off to a somewhat slow start, with Fultz unsurprisingly trying to search out a rhythm.
On his first offensive possession, his downhill attack was blocked off and resulted in a turnover. Nearly a minute later, Fultz got on the board by taking a handoff from Joel Embiid and gliding uncontested to the basket for an easy lay-in.
From there, he appeared to settle in and feel more comfortable, with his passing coming to the fore.
Fultz delivered a sweet behind-the-back pass to Embiid after being trapped coming off a screen, before finding Ersan Ilyasova in transition for a mid-range jumper.
The highly-anticipated moment of Fultz taking a jump shot finally came near the end of the first quarter, when he attempted a pull-up from 11 feet out that found nothing but air, with Denver’s Mason Plumlee possibly getting a piece.
Minutes later, Plumlee then fully blocked Fultz’s second pull-up from 13 feet. The ball found its way back to Fultz on the possession but his strong take to the rim was swatted away.
After being subbed out seconds later, Fultz didn’t return to the game until the back-end of the third quarter.
That’s when he showed off his ability to attack as he first used a crossover at the top of the key and a spin move in the paint to get off a clean floater, which rolled off the rim.
Fultz stayed aggressive on the next possession by slicing to the hoop in transition and this time finishing an unorthodox lay-up off the glass.
He then had the presence of mind to cut into the paint for what would have been an easy lay-up had Paul Millsap not recovered late to force a miss.
On the next possession, Fultz again cut in open space and converted at the basket off Marco Belinelli’s dish.
The fourth quarter, which saw Fultz make good reads on passes and get blocked two more times, was most noteworthy for what he showed with his jumper.
With the 76ers in control, Fultz let loose three pull-ups near the end of the contest – the first he knocked down over Plumlee from 14 feet after a killer crossover; the second he drilled over Plumlee from 20 feet; and the third he missed from the elbow from 17 feet.
“I got even more comfortable,” Fultz said of how he felt as the game went on. “The first time, I was just trying to make sure I did what I could do. The second time, I started to get my groove back more and more.”
Of everything Fultz put on display in his first game back, maybe the most encouraging for Philadelphia was his confidence. He didn’t look timid or hesitant to shoot the ball outside of the paint, which bodes well for where he’s at mentally.
Combine that with what he can do as a slasher and playmaker, and Fultz could be a factor for the 76ers sooner than expected.
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