Imagine this: Markelle Fultz has turned out to be better than Ben Simmons

If you had said back in 2019, or at any point in their collective time in Philadelphia, that Markelle Fultz would be a better basketball player than Ben Simmons in five years, you would have been ridiculed from any conversation you found yourself in.

Markell Fultz? The guy with the squeal?

Is he going to be better than a three-time All-Star?

Of course, you wouldn’t have any logical basis for assuming this five or even three years ago, when Fultz had become such a mental and physical mess that the Sixers had no choice but to send him to Orlando in a few months. after literally sending him home.

By that point, Simmons was universally regarded as a star and quickly became a superstar. There seemed to be no realistic scenario in which these two career trajectories could switch places so abruptly.

But here we are in 2023, and truth be told, it’s not even close. Fultz, who showed enough after arriving in Orlando to earn a $50 million contract at the end of 2020, has turned into an undeniably better player than Simmons, who, on the other hand, has turned into an inappropriate, shy shell. the player he used to be, not to mention the one he aspired to be.

For Simmons, what he can’t do on the court increasingly outweighs what he can do, to the point where he’s now a big enough hurdle for his own team to prove he’s been cut from the Nets’ starting lineup. “. does not sniff the court during closing time. This year he earns 35.4 million dollars.

For Fultz, who is currently costing Orlando less than half of Simmons’ annual salary but could expect a big jump as a free agent next summer, the opposite is true. The point is that he Maybe do.

It all starts with a shot that has gone from being an Achilles’ heel to a legitimate weapon for Fultz inside the arc, hitting mid-range by a 47 percent margin according to Clearing the Glass – better than renowned mid-range masters CJ. McCollum and Dejont Murray, among others.

Lean back on him and he doesn’t hesitate.

Chase him to the top, he goes down, and it is convenient for him to take and make controversial jumps.

Foil his original plan and he has opposition. As Scotty Barnes slides to block Fultz’s rotation to the rim, he lands carelessly and disappears for the baseline.

When was the last time you saw Simmons take a bold step towards the ring and then, when cut off, respond with a smooth and confident response that isn’t some sort of hesitant jump hook at best? Like this:

There is nothing pushy about what Simmons is doing these days. His preference for existing almost entirely on the periphery, unless forced into combat, culminates at the ring, where he now avoids blows just as often as before. more more often than he takes them.

In the clip below, Simmons catches the ball in the form of a tail wing with a steam head and a six-foot runway. He doesn’t even look towards the rim. Instead, like his passive instinct at the moment, he wants to go straight to the handover, but only Royce O’Neal is turned down. Simmons has to stop. Rotate. The momentum of possession has been thwarted once, but it won’t be the last time.

Now Simmons passes the ball back to Cam Johnson and gets in position to defend the ball. Protection allows him to ride free, and why not? Simmons catches the ball in a clean lane to attack the basket, but instead passes in the last second to a completely unsuspecting Nick Claxton, who, with possession stalled a second time, must try to create something out of nothing despite a waning shot. Watch.

Twice Simmons had the chance to come forward and attack the paint/rim on that possession and both times he wanted nothing to do with the opportunity. At least he could call a foul, but he’s not interested in a trip to the free throw line, where he has one try, a miss, in the month of February.

Compare this passivity to what Fultz does in the clip below. There is no calculation. No second guesses. The moment he sees Nikola Vucevic moving up, anticipating him to use the screen from the ball, he rejects it, splitting the straight hole before it can close for a slippery finish.

This was the dexterity of Fultz. This is his strength. At the halfway point, he spots the slightest path among the retreating defense and doesn’t hesitate to put his foot straight on the post for a monstrous finish.

This is not a person who is afraid of contact. Fultz received anything outside of that attack, whether it’s a poster dunk or even a couple of free throws he’s hitting a 75 percent lead this season, another stark difference between him and Simmons, who is throwing 44 percent from the line when he accidentally ends up there at the top.

Lately, Fultz has been exploding with such vertical force more and more frequently. Below, the Bulls lose sight of him in the crossing, and before they can even think about getting back in his path, he speeds up and punishes them with a hammer.

Speaking of hammers…

If you’ve watched most of Magic, you know these aren’t the best moments. Fultz is a player. Bilateral at the same time. People who don’t look and only talk about what they hear might argue that Simmons is the best defender, but even that is debatable. Simmons has declined in that regard as well, while Fultz is still growing into his protective skin.

Do you want ball pressure?

How about turning the aggressive close into a defensive slide back to cut off the penetration and cause a loss?

Like block chase like LeBron?

When Simmons was at his best, he was a defensive tackle with versatility and devastation. Fultz has both qualities. He’s not as tall as Simmons, but his combination of strength and athleticism makes him a viable contender in the higher weight classes, and his assertive style combined with pushing arms qualifies as a nuisance.

Fultz averages 2.7 deflections per game, as does Simmons. He averages 1.5 steals, more than Simmons. None of this, mind you, suggests that Fultz is some kind of up-and-coming star. That ship seems to have sailed away. He averages 13 points and five assists. When he’s on the court, Magic registers as a low offense and statistically the defense isn’t much better.

But this is deception. Watch Magic play and you’ll see how much Fultz picks them up. 5-20 since the start of the season, the Magic are 19-15 in their last 34 games with Fultz in the starting lineup.

Everything from speed to pressure intensifies when he’s on the court. He explores the alleys and finds the shooters. His footwork in the paint allows for multi-way buckets, spins and turns, as well as pumping from Jalen Brunson’s book, his effectively sleepy, arrhythmic cadence is something of a Luka Doncic knockoff as he earns extra leverage on the descent until he can use their strength and craft to make a deal.

Fultz’s influence has been featured in the most important columns for some time now. Since he got to the Magic, they’re 57-52 when he starts and 103-211 when he’s not playing. This is not an accident. This is a player and team on the rise, and Simmons, unfortunately, is going in a very different direction.


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