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The Philadelphia 76ers earned a 119-114 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Monday night at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
In his fourth game with the Sixers, Jimmy Butler posted 16 points and three rebounds. Joel Embiid earned his 17th double-double of the season (33 points and 17 rebounds).
Suns rookie center Deandre Ayton finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, while Devin Booker scored 37 points in a losing effort.
Moving Markelle Fultz to G League Must Be Sixers’ Next Step
Markelle Fultz played seven minutes in the first half and didn’t see the floor at all in the second half. Sixers head coach Brett Brown seemingly acknowledged finally T.J. McConnell is the better backup option to Ben Simmons at point guard.
Tim Bontemps @TimBontemps
After playing seven minutes in the first half, Markelle Fultz appears to have lost his rotation spot to TJ McConnell here in the second. McConnell in for Ben Simmons late in the third quarter.
Fultz was scoreless against Phoenix while posting one rebound, one assist, one turnover and three personal fouls.
Liberty Ballers @Liberty_Ballers
Rough sequence there for Markelle Fultz. A traveling violating sandwiched in between two fouls of jump-shooters.
Drew Corrigan @Dcorrigan50
this is probably a very low point in the markelle fultz saga with 7 minutes played, will be interesting to see how he responds
If McConnell becomes the second-choice point guard, then it leaves Philadelphia in a bind with how to handle the 2017 No. 1 overall draft pick. He’s not going to develop as much if he’s sitting on the bench, but the Butler trade reinforced how Fultz’s progress is a secondary objective behind contending for a title right now.
We’ve reached the point where demoting Fultz to the Delaware Blue Coats, the Sixers’ NBA G League affiliate, is the best move for everybody involved.
Sending him down to the G League risks exacerbating whatever confidence issues he’s experiencing.
Having said that, continuing to bring him off the bench for the Sixers isn’t exactly working either. Entering Monday, he was shooting 30.8 percent from three-point range and had a .458 true shooting percentage, per Basketball Reference. And each one of his ugly-looking shots inevitably blows up on social media.
Right now, Fultz needs to play regularly and in an atmosphere where his every move isn’t intensely scrutinized. Just as important, he could work through his shooting struggles in a lower-stakes environment. A bad night in the G League won’t negatively impact the Sixers.
This is admittedly a delicate situation, and selling Fultz on playing in the G League won’t be easy. Monday was a taste of the alternative, and nobody is helped if Fultz’s role on the Sixers is diminished to the point where he’s getting limited meaningful action.
Deandre Ayton Has Long Way to Go to Reach All-Star Status
For the most part, Ayton has had a solid rookie season. He entered Monday night averaging 16.3 points and 10.5 rebounds, and his minus-5.7 net rating was fourth-best on the Suns, per NBA.com.
Monday’s game, however, illustrated how wide a gap Ayton needs to close before he’s one of the NBA’s top centers.
Ayton picked up three fouls early in the first half as he struggled to guard Embiid inside. Ayton’s foul trouble happened as Embiid decided to be more aggressive in how he attacked the Suns center.
Gina Mizell @ginamizell
Ayton started strong in matchup against Embiid, but Embiid winning the second quarter. Gotten Ayton to commit fouls on back-to-back possessions. He’s got three now with 9:51 left before the half. #Suns
Brian Seltzer @brianseltzer
Embiid continuing to go at Ayton.
A block on one end on Canaan, then scores on Ayton the other end, scores, draws the foul (Ayton 3rd).
Embiid 10 pts, deficit now 38-32.
“You feel it. You see it,” Brown said of Embiid taking over his individual matchup with Ayton, per Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times. “You try to get him the ball.”
Embiid didn’t slow down in the third quarter. At one point, he made Ayton look silly with an up-and-under and drew a foul as well.
Once Embiid hit another level, Ayton was toast on both ends of the floor. He had nothing to counteract the 2018 All-Star.
It’s no coincidence seven of Ayton’s 17 points came during a roughly four-minute stretch when Embiid was on the bench in the fourth quarter.
Suns fans have reason to be optimistic about Ayton’s future. His scoring average is really impressive considering Phoenix lacks a productive point guard who can consistently find him close to the basket.
At the same time, fans should keep their expectations in check. The 20-year-old is a work in progress, particularly on the defensive end. And for as much as Ayton can enjoy posterizing Davis Bertans, he’s probably another year or two away from doing that to opponents who really matter.
The Sixers host the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Suns move on to the second leg of their four-game road trip. They play the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.