Markelle Fultz earns a starting job with his defense

Markelle Fultz has earned a promotion with the Philadelphia 76ers and it’s not because he fixed his jump shot.

Markelle Fultz will be starting at guard for the Philadelphia 76ers. That statement may come as a shock to many because almost every offseason report predicted that the second-year reclamation project would come off the bench. Most NBA depth charts still have J.J. Redick starting over Fultz. They are flat out wrong.

Fultz worked diligently on his infamous broken jump shot in the offseason, but that is not what earned him a spot in the starting lineup. Redick is a better shooter until Fultz can prove otherwise.

Markelle Fultz’s remarkably improved defense is what earned him his spot on the starting five next to Ben Simmons in the backcourt.

Even though Fultz was the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, scouts pointed to his defense as his only weakness (although most of them admitted that his lack of defensive was more due to lack of effort than talent).

Fultz has always had the tools. He has a 6’10″ wingspan, quick hands and great ball awareness. He frankly never seemed to care about the defensive end when he starred at the University of Washington.

That has changed and Sixers head coach Brett Brown took notice. Brown is a “defense-first” coach who graduated from the Gregg Popovich school of coaching in San Antonio.

According to a story on the 76ers’ website, Brown has been impressed by the young guard’s willingness to concentrate on defense.

“He is a willing defender, it’s not pulling teeth,” Brown said. “The NBA defense is incredibly different than anything he experienced in college, or DeMatha, in high school, so it starts with are you a willing participant? Are you a willing defensive player, will you let me coach you defensively? He will, yes he can, and yes he does.”

The new defensive-minded Markelle has been on full display in the 76ers’ preseason games. As encouraging as his shooting, ball-handling and court presence has been, that was all expected. Not many expected him to have four blocks and five steals after four games. His chase-down block in the first preseason game against Melbourne has been immortalized on YouTube.

Brett Brown made it official this week that Markelle Fultz will be in the starting lineup when the 76ers take the floor against the Boston Celtics for a nationally televised game at TD Garden on Oct. 16.

Brown also said that he will play point guard during the game when he comes off the bench in the second half, and even hinted that may be the 20-year-old’s future with the team.

In truth, Simmons and Fultz may not be able to co-exist in the back court together unless Fultz’s 3-point shooting shows major improvement. Fultz attempted only five 3-pointers in the four preseason games and made a lonely one.

Defenses will learn quickly that they can play back on the pair and dare them to shoot. According to Keith Pompey of Philly.com, Brown hinted that Simmons’ future may be at a hybrid point-forward position, much like LeBron James.

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None of that will happen unless Markelle Fultz proves that he can be an offensive star in the NBA. For the time being, Fultz has earned his way into the starting lineup. And he did it with defense, turning a weakness into a strength.

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