At practice on Sunday, 76ers head coach Brett Brown told reporters all he needs from rookie Markelle Fultz is to be able to shoot a basketball. After missing 35 games rehabbing from a shoulder injury, it seems Fultz can’t yet deliver on that request.
The 76ers drafted Fultz with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft after he dazzled crowds with his offensive repertoire at Washington. He averaged 23.2 points on 41.3 percent shooting from downtown to go with 5.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and more than a steal and a block per game.
But Fultz played in just six combined regular season and preseason games since being drafted and only attempted a three in one of them. In four regular season games, the Sixers’ rookie averaged just six points on 33.3 percent shooting in 19 minutes a game — with no threes attempted.
The 76ers eventually shut Fultz down, citing a shoulder injury initially expected to keep him out three weeks. He was later listed as out indefinitely with “soreness and scapular muscle imbalance in his right shoulder.”
But as the number of missed games continues to grow, Fultz’s lack of progress with his jump shot is becoming more and more of a concern.
Fultz’s form continues to change
Here’s what he shot like at Washington, when he was one of the most dynamic perimeter playmakers in the nation:
Here's a reminder of how dynamic Markelle Fultz's live dribble pull up game was at Washington. Confident that he'll return to form in time. pic.twitter.com/t9IoDCnA7H— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) October 18, 2017
Now here’s another look at what he’s shooting like now:
It has even affected his free-throw shooting:
Interesting how dramatically different Markelle Fultz's FT stroke looks here compared to @ UW (65%). Has lowered release point considerably. pic.twitter.com/6REIFX0qtR— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) September 28, 2017
He has even tried practicing left-handed threes:
This is from legit three-point range with Fultz’s left hand pic.twitter.com/lhCXTKqd7I— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) November 6, 2017
You never want to see someone struggle like this, especially a player like Fultz, who the 76ers traded the No. 3 pick and another first-round pick to get. Fultz’s shoulder may be an issue, but at this point, it’s fair to wonder whether confidence may be another.
The 76ers haven’t given up on their rookie point guard, and they won’t. Joel Embiid missed two seasons before taking the world by storm, and Ben Simmons missed one before making the league his oyster. The Process takes time, and even though it’s moving painfully slow with Fultz, it’s moving nonetheless.
But for now, this is all 76ers fans have to hang their hats on. Hopefully it’s only up from here.