No sooner did the Sixers draft Washington point guard Markelle Fultz on Thursday night than coach Brett Brown started talking about “ballcarriers,” a rather curious way to describe NBA playmakers.
This came up because Brown long ago said he intended to use Ben Simmons, a 6-10 forward with an unselfish bent, at the point this season — an interesting experiment, not only because Simmons missed his entire rookie year with a broken foot but also because other responsibilities would have to be divvied up differently than they are on most teams.
Surely, the thinking went, Simmons would be hard-pressed to guard opposing lead guards. Surely, the Sixers would have to play a shorter, quicker guy next to him to perform that defensive task — and it would no doubt help if that guy could knock down a shot or two as well.
The 6-4 Fultz, while a defensive cipher last year for the Huskies, has those capabilities. But there’s little question that he operates best with the rock in his hands.
For the record, Brown said the addition of Fultz “really doesn’t” change his plan. He still intends to make Simmons the point guard and let the chips fall where they may.
Or, as he put it, “We’re excited to use him as the primary ballcarrier.”
At the same time, he added, Fultz “has the ability to be a significant ballcarrier.”
“When we study what he did in college,” Brown added, “you recognize very quickly that he has the ability to play that position and be one of the main ball distributors as well.”
Which means there will be some sorting out to do when training camp begins.
Fultz didn’t seem concerned when the topic was raised. He knows Simmons a little bit since both attended high school powers — Fultz at DeMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, Md., Simmons at Montverde (Fla.) Academy. They connected a while back on social media, then exchanged numbers.
“And,” Fultz said, “I've been texting him through the college process, and just getting advice through college and just wishing him good luck.”
He expects the on-court mesh to be just as smooth.
“Great players know how to play with each other,” he said. “Really it's just do whatever you need to do to win. It's going to be times where maybe Ben brings up the ball or times where I'm bringing up the ball. It's going to do whatever we need to do to win.”
Brown, for his part, sees Fultz as a “perfect complement” not only to Simmons but also to Joel Embiid, who, unsurprisingly, has also reached out to Fultz on social media.
It is far from unprecedented for a team to employ two playmakers. Six NBA clubs featured a duo that averaged five-plus assists a game in 2016-17. That includes the Sixers, who saw both of their primary ballcarr ... er, point guards, T.J. McConnell (6.6) and Sergio Rodriguez (5.1), reach that plateau.
The best analog for the upcoming season might be Charlotte, which features a lanky forward (Nic Batum, 5.9) and high-usage point guard (Kemba Walker, 5.5). The Holy Grail is, of course, Golden State, which has turned basketball into ballet. Draymond Green (7.0) and Stephen Curry (6.6) both exceeded five assists a night, and Kevin Durant (4.8) was close.
In all, the Warriors averaged 30.4 assists — exactly one shy of the NBA record established by the 1984-85 Lakers — and 43.1 field goals. Curry and Green most often initiated their offense, but ex-Sixer Andre Iguodala, a reserve, also did so at times. (Durant was more likely to bring the ball up and do something like this.)
So that’s the ideal, the summit that every team can only hope to reach. The Sixers, still in the baby-steps phase, will inch along behind two playmakers who have yet to play an NBA minute. Embiid will certainly join them in the starting lineup, and probably Robert Covington as well, though both are coming off meniscus tears and will be monitored closely.
It remains to be seen how Dario Saric, another excellent passer, is used. Certainly, the ball would hop around if he were on the court with Fultz and Simmons, but Saric could also serve as the distributor for a potentially interesting bench mob (Jerryd Bayless, Richaun Holmes, et al.).
That’s something else to sort out in September. But Job One for Brown is figuring out how best to use his ballcarriers.
Not the worst problem to have.