With the 1st pick in the 2017 NBA draft the Philadelphia 76ers select Markelle Fultz from the University of Washington. My how opinions have changed. The buzz around draft night was that the top of this new crop of college players was a set of "can't miss" talents. Now, more than half way through the season, it's starting to feel like the most highly touted man may never be right again. Markelle Fultz is supposed to be a future All-Star, he's supposed to be the final piece of the Sixers puzzle. The dude was incredible in college, there was no doubting he could ball. But something changed. If you ask the Sixers' organization, or his agent, it was an"injury". Specifically a muscular imbalance in his shooting shoulder that resulted in a strange new shot. Or maybe the imbalance was a result of him intentionally changing his shooting form. The chicken or the egg? It's possible his shoulder hurt but this injury is a farce. This boy has the yips.
He was great in college.
University of Washington
23.2 Points 5.9 Assists, 5.7 Rebounds, 47% from the field and 65% from the free throw line.
Not bad right? So his team wasn't exactly incredible but look at Ben Simmons' time at LSU. He's been remarkable. Markelle's game looked like it was ready to translate into the NBA and of all of the prospects entering the league, he seemed like a sure fire star.
Then came Summer League.
2 Games, 20 ppg, 3 apg, 3.5 rpg, 43% from the field.
Again, not bad. He wasn't exactly torching everyone but you could see it. He showed good basketball sense and most of the things he was scouted for were evident.
This is where things get dark. Somewhere in the time between Summer League and the preseason, Fultz decided to change his shot. Yeah, I know right? He had a really nice jumper in college and was not a player who made you think, "If only he could shoot." So why change it? When asked, he told reporters that his shoulder hurt when he put up shots and that he adjusted his form to help alleviate that pain. The issue here seems to be that he did so all on his own. Usually if your ankle hurts when you run it means you have a hurt ankle, not that you need to change how you run entirely. So he changed his form and we have the lovely hitched shot we see today. This whole situation was made worse when his agent and the Philadelphia front office failed to communicate and had conflicting reason for the sudden change. According to the agent, he was injured. According to the Sixers, he was not, then suddenly he was. It was a confusing week that ended in the 76ers officially announcing that Markelle Fultz would be out with a muscular imbalance in his shooting shoulder. It took just 4 NBA games, in which Markelle did not look like himself, for Philly to get him the hell off the court.
Here are his stats in those 4 appearances:
6 ppg, 1.8 apg, 2.3 rpg, 1.5 turnovers, 33% from the field, 50% from the free throw line.
Definitely not amazing but maybe it's possible we set expectations too high for players entering the league, especially when they're taken first overall. Maybe we set them so high and pour so much attention on them that they break. It's called the yips and I think Markelle may have them. The yips are defined by involuntary movement of the body, most usually a twitch in the wrist while throwing a baseball, or maybe, perhaps shooting a basketball? What causes this involuntary movement is anxiety and stress, meaning it's all in his head. When watching him shoot the ball we can see at least two hitches where we should see one fluid movement. Have a look for yourself.
It just doesn't look right. And after missing most of the season, likely spending time rehabilitating that "injured" shoulder and doctoring his shot, the videos keep coming. I'll admit that his shot has seen some minor improvement but compared to the great release we saw in college, he's still a mess.
In my opinion the Sixers need to forget about him for the rest of the season and take the pressure off completely. The kid is clearly not right in the head or on the court. The best thing for him right now is to leave it all alone for a while, think of anything but basketball and have some fun. Maybe if he can completely separate himself from the game he might be able to return, have a ball put into his hands and suddenly revert back to the days of those silky smooth college jumpers. Until some kind of miracle like that occurs, this is where he's at. Lost.
To close this piece we'll hear what coach Brett Brown had to say when asked what he needed from Fultz to get him back on the court. His answer: "He needs to be able to shoot a basketball."
Truer words have never been spoken. Regardless of how bleak and hopeless this all sounds, I hope for the best. I'd love to see Markelle prove me wrong and return as a star but I just can't see it. The mental barrier is the hardest to overcome and the damage is done. If Fultz can become the player we all expected I will be over the moon. Who knows, maybe next year will hold a different narrative for the Sixers' future.