But coach Brett Brown said the decision to play T.J. McConnell over Fultz in Game 1 on Monday -- and for most of the postseason so far -- shouldn't "shock anybody, given how we arrived and where we've arrived."
Brown said he has weighed several factors in deciding to play McConnell ahead of Fultz, including McConnell's success with the club over the course of the season and his performance as a backup to Ben Simmons in the first round of the playoffs. Brown also said it would be foolish to consider Fultz "dead and buried" at this point.
"There are times where you for sure think about [playing Fultz]," Brown said Tuesday. "... But I got a decision to make, and I've made a decision. That doesn't mean it's etched in stone. It's always something that you review and think about. And the care for Markelle Fultz and his future is always on my mind."
Fultz returned in late March after a 68-game absence for a shoulder injury. He played well in the final 10 games of the regular season, averaging 7.6 points, 4.6 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1 steal in 17.7 minutes per game. He recorded a triple-double in the season finale, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to do so.
Fultz then logged 14 minutes in the Sixers' Game 1 victory over Miami. But he played a total of nine minutes in Philadelphia's next two games and has not appeared in the club's past three games.
Brown said on Tuesday that he understands the general interest in Fultz's role because of the attention he commands as a No. 1 draft pick. But, purely from a basketball perspective, Brown said it was only logical to play McConnell ahead of the 19-year-old Fultz.
"Markelle Fultz played 10 end-of-season games for the year, and T.J. played the whole year and had a helluva year and we won [16 in a row], and we were winning, we were playing good basketball," said Brown, whose team is 4-2 in the playoffs. "... I decided to do it because there is continuation of growth of a whole year [with McConnell]. ... T.J. grabbed a spot and walked it down, we won a series.
"But it's not anything that I'm not open to always reviewing. I'll do whatever it takes to help [Fultz] help us. 'Us' being the key word."
Brown suggested that, in a perfect world, Fultz would have had more time to get acclimated to the NBA before this point in the season. Fultz played the first four games of his rookie season but then missed the next five months due to the shoulder injury. Brown credited Fultz for handling his reduced role well.
"I think he's been unbelievable, coachable and [has had an] unbelievable spirit," Brown said. "These questions [from media members] that we're going through, my discussion with him is very brief and it's a fist-bump and he moves on."