Markelle Fultz appears close to returning to the Philadelphia 76ers, but last year’s first-overall pick still appears to be struggling with his jump shot. Before the 76ers played the Boston Celtics in London on Thursday, there was video captured of Fultz shooting around on the court and ... uh, lemme just show you:
And another angle:
Markelle Fultz shooting jumpers in London pic.twitter.com/eRtzaAmdZS— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) January 11, 2018
Remember, this is what it looked like before:
Look at Markelle Fultz's jumper last year at Washington. High release, good elevation. Nothing like it looked today pic.twitter.com/bYm0gjoxqN— Mike Zavagno (@MZavagno11) January 11, 2018
And it was a legitimate weapon for him, as displayed here in a DraftExpress video from Dec. 2016:
It is, in a word, baffling. In another: terrifying. The 76ers traded up two spots and gave up an additional potential top-five pick to select Fultz as a centerpiece in their highly regarded future, and the first three months have been nothing short of bewildering. That Fultz’s jumper still looks so different — and, frankly, worse — is hardly a good sign.
How did Fultz do this again?
There were two narratives that emerged in October. Fultz’s camp peddled a story about a shoulder injury that was apparently so severe he couldn’t raise his arm all the way up in the air. According to his agent, Fultz had his shoulder drained ... and then issued another statement saying he actually had fluids ejected with a cortisone shot. That’s why Fultz has missed all but the first four games of the season — he was even in Kentucky at one point to work on rehabbing his injured shoulder. Early this month, he was cleared to resume his “final stage” of rehab, which would eventually include a full return to 76ers practice.
However, Philadelphia also claimed early in the process that Fultz was to blame for his shoulder injury after attempting to change his jump shot — with help from an AAU coach — in August. It was bizarre to see the 76ers push back against the story that their prized first-round pick was claiming, and Philadelphia has an absolutely atrocious history dealing with injuries.
It appears that Fultz suffered a shoulder injury and changed his jump shot, and it isn’t clear which was one the chicken and which one was the egg.
What does this mean for Fultz?
It’s strange to remember now, but Fultz actually played the first four games of this season. He racked up 24 points while basically never shooting jumpers — he attempted — and missed — three shots from distance in his first preseason game on Oct. 4, and he hasn’t tried one in any exhibition or regular season game that followed.
There were several reasons why Fultz was the first-overall pick, and his jump shot was a huge reason. Fultz hit 41.3 percent of his college three-point attempts despite a stagnant offense that required him to do much of its heavy lifting, and he excelled at the pull-up jumper that used all of his 6’4 frame. Fultz is a smooth dribbler who easily floats into the paint, but the jump shot was an equally important part of his appeal.
What’s wrong with his new jumper?
Yes, we’re basing our fears on a four-second video showing two jump shots. Hell, we don’t even see if they go in. But we know that this jumper looks dramatically different than the one he used during his entire amateur career and even during the summer league.
We can also see there’s a lower release point, which mitigates one of the best qualities of his jump-shot mechanics while he played for Washington. That high release point allowed Fultz to release over defenders even in tight situations, since Fultz boasts 6’10 wingspan and impressive body control. If he’s shooting the ball in front of his chest now, rather than over his head, it’ll be much tougher for Fultz to release pull-up jump shots.
Maybe Fultz’s shot is fine and we’re completely missing something, but I can’t imagine how that would be the case. Maybe his new release will allow him to hit open jump shots just fine, but those mechanics will still limit what Fultz was supposed to be capable of doing. It’s why the 76ers traded up for him. Maybe Fultz can still get his old jump-shot mechanics back, but if so, why hasn’t it happened already?
Nobody’s writing off Fultz, or at least, nobody should be. All that talent is still there. Hell, Fultz is probably an NBA player even without a jump shot. But it’s concerning that the consensus No. 1 pick’s very first month in the NBA was so bizarre that he took three months off and that he still hasn’t fixed the reason he took all that time off to begin with.