Brett Brown has toyed with the idea of starting Markelle Fultz over JJ Redick at two-guard since the beginning of training camp. The decision was announced a few weeks ago and was finally made official on Friday.
Reactions to this change have been mixed, with some fans recognizing Fultz’s potential, and others weary of the impact of losing Redick’s spacing around Embiid and Simmons.
With the team set to tip-off the season tonight in Boston, we’ll get our first real sample of why Brett Brown made the lineup change—a move that will be closely scrutinized in the coming days.
Here’s why I think this is a smart move:
1. Fultz provides much better defense
I harp on this a lot because it doesn’t get enough attention, but the potential that Fultz has on defense is equally as high as his potential on offense. At 6’5’’ 200 lbs. he has a strong frame to allow him to switch onto bigger bodies, and his 7’ foot wingspan gives him the length to harass opposing ball-handlers.
Already, in just a handful of games last season and through the preseason we’ve witnessed Fultz put together a highlight reel worth of chase down and weak side blocks—displaying the threat he poses as an off-ball defender.
It’s no secret that JJ is weak on defense. The book on beating the Sixer defense in half-court sets last season was to attack Redick off the dribble, and the presence of Joel Embiid can only mask that hole so much. Inserting Fultz into the starting lineup—at least to begin games—will go a long way in improving a Sixer defense that already ranked atop of the league.
In last season’s playoff loss to the Celtics we noticeably lacked wing defenders capable of switching across the board. Boston essentially ran dribble hand-offs until they got the matchup they wanted (usually Redick) and attacked. Fultz has the potential to be the type of wing defender who can defend the likes of Tatum, Irving, Brown, Rozier, and so forth.
2. Added playmaking off the bounce
The other noticeable problem in the team’s playoff loss to Boston was a lack of playmaking. When the offense wasn’t flowing through Embiid or Redick the team struggled to create opportunities off the dribble, and thus was unable to break down Boston’s defense and get to the rim.
Fultz provides that.
When Ben Simmons unexpectedly had trouble creating in that series, Brett Brown wasn’t able to adapt without capable ball handlers behind him. The offense got a shot in the arm when they began giving McConnell 30 minutes a night over the final two games—and McConnell played well on both ends of the floor—but even his production ran thin. Add Fultz to the mix and all of a sudden the pressure on Ben Simmons to penetrate off the dribble is cut in half.
Sure, Redick provided Simmons with valuable spacing, but I’m fairly confident that BB wouldn’t have made this move if he wasn’t confident in Fultz ability to space the floor. And if I’m judging based off the preseason I would say that his shot won’t be a concern.
3. Fultz’s triple-threat ability makes him the most complete wing to play with Embiid & Simmons
Redick and Covington can shoot, but aren’t effective driving to the rim. Ben Simmons is effective driving to the rim, but can’t shoot. Fultz provides a little bit of both, as all good wing players should.
Fultz gives our two superstars their first triple-threat presence flanking the perimeter and if he can shoot anywhere near the clip that Redick can then he will raise the potential of this offense significantly.
When it comes to defending guys like Redick, RoCo, Belinelli, TLC, Ilyasova, Saric, or whoever logged minutes on the wing last season, opposing teams had an easy time forcing them to score with the weaker part of their game—whether it be forcing poor shooters to shoot, or forcing shooters to put the ball on the floor.
In a championship-level NBA offense you need to surround your superstars with players who can not only play both ends of the floor, but also be capable of scoring on offense in multiple ways. As much as I like JJ, he doesn’t satisfy that.
4. Building a second team offense around Redick is more logical
There are two reasons for this. The first of which being the night-in night-out reliability of Redick’s presence. I know what you’re thinking, if Fultz is good enough to be named a starter over Redick then wouldn’t he be more reliable offensively? Not necessarily. It’s true that Fultz has a more all-around game than Redick and even more potential, but Redick is a 12-year veteran who has been a first, second, or third option on offense for the majority of his career.
He may be an excellent stand still shooter but the Sixers utilized him as a focal point of the offense for the majority of last season. On at least every other play you could count on JJ running off a screen or executing a dribble hand-off for easy offense. Running the second unit through a young and inexperienced player like Fultz just doesn’t feel as safe as allowing him to complement the first unit.
On top of that, we need to look at what the second unit already has (and lacks). The presence of McConnell off the bench makes Fultz’s ball handling less of a necessity, while the lack of shooting creates a clear void for Redick to fill. Not to mention the value of having veteran leadership coming off the bench—something that Fultz obviously doesn’t provide.
All in all it doesn’t matter what makes sense on paper, if it doesn’t pan out on the court then BB won’t hesitate to re-insert Redick into the starting lineup. More importantly, all that matters is which player will be on the floor in the fourth quarter—and the team has already alluded to their plan to let game flow dictate their end-of-game lineups.
Truth be told, both of them could be on the floor to end games, especially if Covington struggles with consistency again.
Regardless of if this move sticks, the fact that the coaching staff would even consider making this move—let alone actually make it—should inspire confidence in Fultz’s ability to be a major contributor this season.