Broken jump shot. Broken confidence. Overrated. Bust. Lost cause. Time to move on. I’ve heard all of these descriptions of the top pick in the loaded 2017 draft class. And frankly, I’m tired of it. Because Markelle Fultz is going to prove that he will surpass your expectations and keep working for his own.
After rehabbing a shoulder injury for most of last season, there was a noticeable difference in his shooting form. There was a sudden reluctance to show off the jumper that Fultz displayed during his dominant freshman season at Washington. Through 14 games, he only shot one three after shooting 41% on nearly 130 attempts from the college line. His free throw percentage was down below 50%. The quality of misses drew, and continue to draw, speculation on if we will ever see the smooth, compact motion many lauded in the pre-draft process. Even after starting this season with more willingness to take and make jumpers, he hasn’t been the third star in Philly that many pegged him to be when he was drafted.
So, naturally, the same media members, fans, and onlookers who were hyping him last June are seemingly closing the door on the DeMatha grad and writing him off as a bust because he has not reached the level they expected for his top selection. Seems valid, right? I mean, if a 20-year old hasn’t figured it out in 32 games, who’s to say he ever will? Do you hear how absurd that sounds? It’s ludicrous. In fact, from what I have seen, I am still confident Markelle Fultz will be a star for a long time in this league.
First of all, let me clarify that Fultz doesn’t need any sympathy. He says he’s not hurt anymore and I believe that. Philly fans don’t need to treat him like the high school benchwarmer every time he makes a wide open jump shot. That being said, I understand this is a very unique situation. There hasn’t been a player in recent history that has experienced such a remodeling of his jump shot in a season. But the Monstars haven’t taken his powers and he hasn’t forgotten how to play basketball. I’m sure someone reading this is thinking, “Then how do you explain the double-clutch free throws?”
To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that. I’m not going to sit here and act like an expert on his injury or why his form has changed. There is clearly some trial and error going on to find the form that is most comfortable and consistent for him. Believe it or not, it is possible to be both fully healthy and still trying to find that same pre-injury technique.
I think part of Markelle’s struggles come from an inner battle to find that consistency, but unlike many, I think that is a positive. At first, I thought he was scared of the moment. But the more I watch, the more I see he is so anxious to succeed that he might be pressing. He’s not a player who is missing shots and banking on his talent to magically fix things. He is in the gym working, experimenting, and trying to find that sweet spot. Athletes know when you’re trying to make an adjustment to your technique, it can be ugly for a while as you get used to it. Too many people are dwelling on the double-clutch free throw and ignoring his progress since last season. Look at the 0:38 mark of this clip, and pay attention to the fluidity of that contested pull-up.
There are so many flashes of brilliance in his game. He is already a disruptor on defense and reliable pick-and-roll player. His combination of length, athleticism, and playmaking is so rare for a lead guard. He is averaging 8.6 points, 3.2 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game. Respectable, but not overwhelming. But critics are quick to compare him to guys like Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell.
Some people are calling the package of Tatum and future first-rounder for Fultz a robbery by the Celtics. But as I’ve said, Fultz has played less than half a season. He isn’t even old enough to drink alcohol, but because a player like Tatum is thriving and Fultz is still working to rediscover his jumper, many are quick to call him a bust. Young players don’t develop at the same pace, but ones with his talent and drive are treasures. Again, these myopic views have proven to be regrettable when dealing with players with immense talent and work ethic. Remember a few years ago when Rams quarterback Jared Goff was declared a bust after a few games during his rookie season because he struggled to find any consistency? Now he’s a serious MVP candidate and the critics want to be silent.
I ask people to be patient. From Stephen A. Smith to Twitter trolls, give it some time before throwing around the bust title and calling for Philly to trade him. He may have temporarily lost that pre-draft form but he hasn’t lost himself. He’s a still a dog to the core. Don’t get it twisted. The Sixers didn’t make a mistake. Fultz was the best talent in the 2017 draft class, I truly believe that. When it clicks, and I promise you it will click, Markelle Fultz will be showing off all the ability you claim he has lost.