For years, the Sixers have needed this. Even when Nerlens Noel was the centerpiece. When it was Jahlil Okafor and Noel. When it transitioned to Joel Embiid this past season. Even after Embiid went down, the team still was lacking one thing that would make everything so much better.
A point guard. And now they have one who could potentially be great.
The Philadelphia 76ers have reportedly agreed to terms with the Boston Celtics to send their No. 3 pick in next week’s draft, along with a protected first-round pick (either from the Lakers 2-5 in 2018 or the Kings‘ unprotected pick in 2019) in exchange for Markelle Fultz, the presumptive No. 1 pick. Well, presumptive outside of Boston, anyway.
The focus will be on what this means for Boston’s future, how this impacts Isaiah Thomas and where they go after dealing a No. 1 overall pick. There will be talk of “The Process,” and about the three-headed monster the Sixers are setting up with Fultz, Embiid and Ben Simmons (provided they’re healthy). But the pick of Fultz, independent of everything else, is important for the Sixers.
Modern NBA point guard
Fultz’ versatility is considered his biggest strength. He’s a good shooter, scorer, playmaker and floor general who can be used in a variety of roles. That versatility not only means he can fit next to Simmons and Embiid, but also that he fits into the modern NBA. Point guard must be able to shoot, and Fultz shot 41 percent from 3-point range at Washington. He projects well as a scorer off the dribble and as a spot-up shooter.
Fultz’s size allows him to guard multiple positions, another must these days. He can play next to another combo guard, or next to a pure shooting guard. Fultz is a player who doesn’t come with weaknesses that need to be fixed.
Most every top NBA club features a top-flight point guard, and the Sixers have been at the bottom with theirs. Fultz solves that gap immediately and could put them in the elite tier should he play up to his potential.
Setting the table
The Sixers needed a point guard just to make sense of the offense. Jerryd Bayless showed his usual level of veteran competency in the three games he was available, and the results were night and day, despite Bayless not being a spectacular player. They just needed someone to organize things and make sure the offense runs. Simmons is expected to play point forward, but he might be better suited as a secondary playmaker, given his shooting and free throw woes.
Just having a player like Fultz to make sure Embiid gets the ball, or to create offense when things stall in the initial action, is going to do wonders for a Sixers offense that has been akin to primordial ooze lounging in a swamp. They have Dario Saric, they have the two stars, they have Robert Covington. They have dynamic players but have had no one to tie the room together. Fultz provides that opportunity, which makes him worth the two first-round picks the Sixers gave up.
The Celtics reportedly were concerned with Fultz’s lack of team success at Washington. Of course, the Sixers have been one of the worst teams in the league for years, so that won’t be much of an adjustment for Fultz. But more important, Fultz gets to learn how to win next to some other young, hungry players. He gets to make his own legacy, which is part of what drew him to Washington in the first place. He’s not chasing Celtics ghosts in Philly, and will spearhead a young team is ready to take the next step.
With his versatility, athleticism and skill, Fultz represents the end of the stop gaps at the point in Philly. They have the point man of the future alongside the center and forward of the future. The process, whatever it was, is over. The Sixers are finally ready to get serious about winning for the first time in four years.