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NBA Saturday: Is Markelle Fultz Destined to Hit a Rookie Wall?

Sixers’ coach Brett Brown worries about a rookie wall for Markelle Fultz, but elite point guards before him have climbed it, writes Dennis Chambers.

Dennis Chambers



It’s no secret that the Philadelphia 76ers’ talented rookies will have big roles and will be heavily relied on this season.

Young legs and a high motor are usually things to envy in the world of professional basketball, but for the Sixers, they may have a bit too much of that on their roster. With a bevy of young lottery picks set to fill out its rotation, Philadelphia will be relying heavily on two players who have yet to step foot on an NBA court for a regular season game.

Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are both poised to make their rookie debuts for the Sixers on Oct. 18 against the Washington Wizards. For Simmons, he’s had the benefit of being in an NBA locker room for over a year now. He has worked with NBA strength coaches, had the benefit of team chefs, and experiencing the day-to-day schedule of what it means to be an NBA player. Granted, he doesn’t physically know the rigors of a full professional basketball slate, but he’s at least been around those who have for over a year.

Fultz, on the other hand, is 19 years old, fresh out of college, and being thrust into the starting lineup of a team that has legitimate playoff aspirations. While Simmons will act as the team’s primary ball handler, and therefore de facto point guard, Fultz will still line up at the one spot for the Sixers and will shoulder his fair share of the playmaking responsibilities.

After playing in just 25 games last season at the University of Washington, and at just 19 years old, it’s not clear if Fultz can handle the workload over an 82 game season.

Brett Brown, the Sixers’ head coach, thinks Fultz will definitely have an adjustment ahead of him during his rookie year.

“It’s two things,” Brown said in reference to Fultz adjusting to the NBA game. “The first is, the athleticism in the men that jump you right from the get-go is relentless. There is no, sort of unforgiving stage. It is very, very ruthless that he’s going to experience. Not so much in preseason, when all of sudden, you know, John Wall claws into him and Otto Porter is alive, that you realize that there is an athleticism and men that catches people off guard.”

Brown is accurate in his assessment from the perspective that Fultz will surely face a higher intensity of defense than he ever has before in his basketball life. When ultra-athletic guards like Wall or Russell Westbrook step in the path of Fultz, the sheer physicality of the matchup will be taxing on the body of someone who is still growing and physically maturing. But this isn’t unprecedented ground for a rookie point guard. In fact, like Fultz, both Wall and Westbrook were once in similar positions as high lottery picks who were expected to step into a primary roles right away and make a big impact.

By scanning the landscape of the NBA, you find that most of the league’s best point guards were once top draft picks thrust into starting roles that demanded heavy production. Westbrook and Wall made their debuts at 20 years old. Kyrie Irving was 19 years old when he hit an NBA court. Stephen Curry was just legally able to drink alcohol, and Damian Lillard was 22 when he suited up for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Coach Brown believes there becomes a specific time frame that may represent when Fultz could begin to slow down due to the physical demands of the game.

“Then we’re going to talk about January the 10th,” Brown said. “And talk about a rookie wall, because of the nature of our league. That evolution, along with other things, most comes to my mind when you say ‘What’s Markelle got to look forward to?’ Those things is what I’ve learned with young guys.”

In accordance with the date Brown mentioned and the obvious hurdles an NBA season presents for a rookie, the wall that the Sixers’ coach mentioned surely impacted some of the league’s best guards during their rookie season, right?

Not so fast.

With the aforementioned guards as examples, when you go back to check their respective rookie season’s, you’ll find almost the exact opposite of what Brown is suggesting. After that Jan. 10 mark, almost all of these guards saw a spike in their production. Curry’s scoring average jumped from 12.3 points a game during the first half of the season to 21.6 points per game. Russell Westbrook’s scoring and assist numbers jumping from 14.1 points and 4.9 assists to 15.6 points and 5.6 assists per game — small increases but still notable.

Certain efficiency traits like shooting percentages didn’t hold up as well, but there was no catastrophic drop off from any of the guards that walked in Fultz’s shoes before him. In fact, despite Brown’s concerns heading into this season, the elite company that the Sixers’ rookie point guard is hoping to join one day all hit a stride in during their rookie campaigns as the second half of the season started to set in.

What Fultz has that most of the other lead guards weren’t fortunate enough to have, however, is the relief of not suiting up as the team’s primary ball-handler each night. Fultz will be able to find his way and develop his rhythm at his own pace while Simmons carries the torch as the team’s primary playmaker.

Having the opportunity to go up against Simmons in practice on a daily basis is a benefit too. Fultz has good size in his own right, standing at 6-foot-5. But with Simmons stretching the measuring tape to nearly seven feet, and playing against the likes of the other Sixers’ big bodies, Fultz feels he’ll have the necessary preparation.

“Our backcourt is kind of big,” Fultz said. “You got Ben, you got Joel (Embiid), got Dario (Saric), everyone out here who is 6-foot-5 and above. Coming out here you’re gonna get a good chance to guard that every day in practice. So with them, trying to get my shot off against them, get layups off against them, also guarding them, all of those will help me get ready for the games.”

Brown notices a certain fire in Fultz that may help him overcome the rookie wall, if and when it comes.

“He is incredible when he wants to please, he wants to learn, he lets us coach him,” Brown said. “Good people, like he’s got a foundation that he doesn’t want to let people down. Then you look at the other side and you say, he’s got a great basketball body. Look how long he is, he’s got those high hips, all that.”

As the Sixers get ready to embark on their first meaningful season in recent memory, they will be trusting a lot of responsibility to a 19-year-old who played just 25 games last season. But despite his youth and lack of experience in a bigger and tougher basketball world, the numbers are on Fultz’s side, to a certain extent.

If Fultz proves to be in the class of Curry and Wall, the Philadelphia 76ers may have a point guard that hurdles the rookie wall and hits his stride this season when they’ll need him the most.

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.


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The G-League is a Path Back to the NBA

The G-League has become an avenue for several player types toward the NBA, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz



When the NBA first instituted their development league, its main purpose was two-fold. The first was to give experience to young players who perhaps were not seeing regular playing time on their respective NBA teams. The second was to give undrafted players a chance at getting exposure and ultimately getting to the NBA.

With the growth in size and popularity of the development league, now known as the G-League, it’s begun to serve another purpose. It’s become a place for older veterans who have already tasted the NBA life to get back to the highest level of basketball that they once knew.

One player in particular who has a wealth of NBA experience is Terrence Jones. Jones is currently playing with the Santa Cruz Warriors, the G-League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors.

Jones was originally drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 18th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He was part of a vaunted class of Kentucky Wildcats that year, which included Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller. During his four years with the Rockets, he emerged as a dependable reserve and part-time starter. He averaged 9.5 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds.

“It was just a lot of excitement and a lot of joy, being part of the Houston Rockets was a lot of fun,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “We had great memories and great seasons, a lot of up and downs, I just enjoyed the journey.”

Jones’ dealt with injuries his last two season in Houston, and when he was a free agent in the summer of 2016, the Rockets didn’t re-sign him. He was scooped by the New Orleans Pelicans, however, and he made an immediate impact for them. Prior to the trade deadline, he played in 51 games for the Pelicans, including 12 starts while putting up 11.5 points on 47.2 percent shooting, and 5.9 rebounds.

When the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins, however, they cut Jones. He didn’t stay unemployed for long, though, as he was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks to add depth for a playoff run. He was unable to crack the rotation, though, and the Bucks cut him as well before the playoff started. After a brief stint in China, he’s now back stateside and using the G-League to get back to the NBA.

“That’s the goal. Right now, I feel I’ve been playing pretty well and just trying to help my team get wins,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I think I can play multiple positions offensively and defensively. Whether that’s creating plays for myself or for others, I think I can help contribute on the offensive end.”

He’s been the second-leading scorer for Santa Cruz with 19.9 points per game. He’s pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and even dishing out 4.5 assists. In the G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team at All-Star Weekend, he finished with eight points on 50.0 percent shooting, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He’s definitely a name to watch for as NBA teams scour the market for 10-day contract possibilities.

Another player who’s had a taste of the NBA is Xavier Silas. Silas is currently with the Northern Arizona Suns, the affiliate of the Phoenix Suns. He went undrafted in 2011 and started his professional career in France. That only last a few months before he came back the United States and latched on with the Philadelphia 76ers.

He played sparingly with the 76ers and was ultimately cut before the start of the 2012-13 season. Since then, he’s played summer league with the Bucks, and been in two different training camps with the Washington Wizards.

“It was amazing, any time you get to go and play at the highest level, and I even got to play in the playoffs and play in the second round and even score, that was big,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “It was a great time for me and that’s what I’m working towards getting back.”

While his professional career has taken him all across the globe from Israel to Argentina to Greece to Germany and even Ice Cube’s BIG3 league, he sees the G-League as being the one place that will get him back to where he wants to be.

He’s done well this season for Northern Arizona. He’s their third-leading scorer at 19.3 points per game and he’s one of their top three-point threats at 39.9 percent. At the All-Star Weekend G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team, Silas had a team-high 13 points for Team USA including 3-5 shooting from three-point range.

It’s isn’t just what he brings on the court that Silas believes makes him an attractive candidate for an NBA team. At age 30, he’s one of the older guys in the G-League and one with a lot of basketball experience to be passed down to younger guys.

“I think it’s a little bit of leadership, definitely some shooting. I’m a vet now so I’m able to come in and help in that aspect as well. But everybody needs someone who can hit an open shot and I think I can bring that to a team,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s the best place for anyone who’s trying to make that next step. We’re available and we’re right here, it’s just a call away.”

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NBA Daily: Lillard Playing For Something Bigger

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has his eyes set on a bigger prize than just being an NBA All-Star.

Steve Kyler



Playing For Something Bigger

The NBA All-Star Game is a spectacle.

By design, the game is meant to be a showcase, not just for the players selected to compete, but for the league and all of its partners, on and off the floor. It is easy to get caught up in how players selected actually play, but the reality is while most see the game as important for a lot of reasons, Portland Trail Blazer star Damian Lillard understands it has to be put into perspective.

“I don’t think it’s fair to expect people to go out there and treat it like they are playing for the team they’re under contract for,” Lillard explained this weekend.

“It’s the one time in an 82-game season plus playoffs, preseason and training camp that we actually get a break. It’s necessary to take a mental break, along with a physical break from what we do every day. There’s nothing wrong with that, so I don’t think it’s fair to ask guys to go out there and play like it’s for the Trail Blazers. My loyalty is to my team; I got to stay healthy for my team. I got to do what’s best for my team. Obviously, go out there [during All-Star] and not mess around too much and that’s how people get hurt and stuff like that. You got to go out there and play and have respect for the game, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go out there and go crazy like it’s a playoff game.”

Lillard notched 21 minutes in Sunday’s big game, going 9-for-14 from the field for 21 points for Team Stephen, a roster that included three Golden State Warriors players. Lillard believes that eventually, he’ll get the chance to share the weekend, his third, with teammate C. J. McCollum.

“Each year you see teams are getting two to three, Golden State got four this year,” Lillard said. “But you look at it and say ‘why is that happening’ and it has a lot to do with team success. Me and C.J. just have to take that challenge of making our team win more games. I think when we do that, we’ll be rewarded with both of us making it. If we really want to make that happen, then we’ll do whatever it takes to win more games.

“I feel like this season we’ve moved closer in that direction. In the past, we haven’t even been in the position to get one, because I did not make it the past two years. I think if we keep on improving we’ll eventually get to the point that we’re winning games and people will say ‘how are they doing this’ and then hopefully our names come up. Hopefully, one day, it’ll happen.”

Another issue that got addressed during the All-Star Weekend was the growing tensions between the NBA players and the NBA referees. Representatives from both sides met to address the gap developing on the court, something Lillard felt was necessary.

“We’re all human,” Lillard said. “As competitors, we want to win. If you feel like you got fouled, you want them to call the foul every time. I think sometimes as players, we forget how hard their job can be. At the pace we play, it’s hard to get every call, and then you got guys tricking the referees sometimes, we’re clever too. It’s a tough job for them. I think when we get caught up in our competitive nature, and we forget that they’re not just these robots with stripes, they are people too. You have got to think, as a man if someone comes screaming at you every three plays, you are going to react in your own way. Maybe you’re not going to make the next call; maybe I am going to stand my ground. It’s just something that I think will get better over time. I think both have to do a better job of understanding.”

With 24 games left to play in Lillard’s sixth NBA season, the desire to be more than a playoff team or an All-Star is coming more into focus for Lillard, something he reportedly expressed to Blazers management several weeks ago.

“There are guys that have this record and guys that have done these things, and I want to at least get myself the chance to compete for a championship,” Lillard said. “If I get there and we don’t win it, it happens. A lot of people had to go see about Michael Jordan, a lot of people had to go see about Shaq and Kobe. You know, those great teams, but I have a strong desire to at least give myself a chance to be there. Take a shot at it.”

With All-Star out of the way, the focus in the NBA will switch to the race to the playoffs. As things stand today Lillard and his Blazers hold the seventh seed in the West and are tied with Denver, and just a half of a game back from the five seed Oklahoma City Thunder.

If the Blazers are going to make noise this post season its going to be on the shoulder of Lillard, and based on what he said, it seems he’s up to the challenge.

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NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed

James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star

James Blancarte



NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.

Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.

2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.

“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”

Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.

“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”

While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.

“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.

Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.

“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”

Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.

“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.

Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.

“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.

On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.

Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.

“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.

Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.

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