When preparing to face the 76ers, the Chicago Bulls did not look for ways to slow down Markelle Fultz. Sure, he was a part of the scouting report, but not in the way you would hope.
The message was clear in the Sixers' opening offensive possession Thursday night. Fultz caught a pass from Ben Simmons just outside the three-point line, but as Fultz was moving out to get the ball, the man guarding him, Cameron Payne, stopped at the top corner of the paint. When Fultz passed the ball to Joel Embiid, then cleared to the other side of the court, Payne stayed behind and double-teamed Embiid.
That was a sequence that played out over and over throughout the night, no matter who was tasked with guarding Fultz.
Later when the Sixers' young guard was bringing the ball up the floor and Antonio Blakeney was waiting midway between the free-throw line and the top of the arc, the Bulls coaching staff yelled down, instructing Blakeney to back up farther and farther until he was in the paint, behind the free-throw line.
"Very talented player, and someone you have to game plan for," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said before the game. "We'll see how it goes."
The Sixers came out on top, beating the Bulls 127-108 behind 30 points from Embiid and a triple-double from Simmons. Fultz finished with 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting.
Sixers coach Brett Brown pointed to the volume of shots by Fultz as a positive sign, saying it means he is confident and approaching shooting without fear.
"He shot it to mean it, he didn't look afraid of anything," Brown said. "He missed the shots but they looked good."
Fultz still passed up on a number of open looks from midrange and long distance. Additionally, no matter how fearless Fultz may be, 5-of-15 is a stat line that most teams will be happy living with if it means being able to double Embiid or Simmons, and a team with more defensive prowess than Chicago will be able to make things even more difficult.
Even Wendell Carter, the Bulls' rookie center who battled with Embiid throughout the night, said it was weird planning for an opponent and knowing that his team would be letting a guard roam around on the perimeter with little or no attention paid to him.
"It was definitely a point of emphasis going into this game," Carter said. "That's very, very, very different."
It's not every day in the NBA that a team receives a scouting report that specifically instructs ignoring a guard on the three-point line, but that's what the Bulls were directed to do when guarding Fultz.
It's only two games into the 2018-19 season and Fultz has barely had a presence in the NBA, but already teams have decided that he is almost a nonfactor.
Moving forward, this could go one of two ways. Either Fultz continues to gain confidence and becomes more efficient, forcing teams to pay more attention to him and punishing them when they don't, or Sixers opponents continue to effectively play five-on-four, rendering Fultz a nonfactor.
In Fultz's defense, he has the right outlook.
"I know what I'm capable of," he said. "Sometimes it's actually pretty hard to guard somebody coming full speed at you when you're that far back. Sometimes I look at it like that, sometimes I look for the three, it all depends."