Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons injury opens door for Markelle Fultz to grow

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

With Ben Simmons nursing a back injury, his rest allows rookie Markelle Fultz to experience work

When Ben Simmons left Saturday night’s contest against the Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers fans sat with bated breath.

Coach Brett Brown tamed the panic for a moment when he spoke with the media, announcing that Simmons left the game with back tightness. Turns out, carrying this Sixers squad on his shoulders for the past year is catching up to him.

Simmons is listed as questionable entering Tuesday’s game against the Detroit Pistons, the first of two in a short road trip to the midwest.

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In a lengthy NBA season where players sit games out for “rest’ and an ESPN Wednesday night primetime showdown against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks looming, there’s a very good chance that Simmons is on the bench in his finest business-casual attire.

While Sixers fans who travelled to or reside in the Greater Detroit area and possess tickets to the game may not be thrilled, sidelining Simmons could present a golden opportunity for Markelle Fultz to take the reins and run the Sixers’ offense in a low pressure situation.

Fultz, who is off to a sluggish start in his first year back from a mystery injury in his rookie season, won the fifth starting spot over veteran guard J.J. Redick. The former No. 1 overall pick is averaging eight points and just under five assists per game through three competitions early in the season.

Fultz is splitting time with Redick and other role players off of the bench, but showcased his true potential in a game against the Chicago Bulls in which he scored 12 points and saw over 32 minutes on the floor. That’s significantly more action than the other two matchups and his performance lit a spark of hope for those who doubt this worthiness of the starting role.

As someone who has far from counted Fultz out, but is certainly skeptical of the decision to select the kid as a teenager first overall, this first opportunity be the guy at the guard position has me feeling like it’s Black Friday.

We’ve feasted and stuffed our guts with Simmons domination when driving to the hoop and scintillating ability to share the wealth when the defense collapses on him. But Santa’s made his first appearance (not counting the hundreds of premature advertisements on television, that’s not really Santa) in the Macy’s Parade and the exciting anticipation of the holiday season sets in.

I’m not saying Fultz is going to be Santa, but he could be Buddy the Elf, the powerhouse of the North Pole production line that allows Santa to continue putting up 30 points per game.

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It’s the perfect storm. Give the reining Rookie of the Year the night off to rest his back and let the rookie exercise some of his demons in front of all seven screaming Pistons fans at the Palace in Auburn Hills. And if all goes well, Fultz will hopefully put the Sixers in great position to earn that third win of the early 2018-19 season.