I rarely participated in the Markelle Fultz discussion. I saw the videos posted on Reddit and Twitter. The footage of the top pick in the draft forgetting how to shoot a basketball. But I rarely entertained them. Not that I didn’t care. Of course I cared. But I wanted to pretend everything would be just fine. I try to remain as positive as possible in every situation, which obviously can be unhealthy at times, and downright delusional. But not with something you literally have no control over, and I couldn’t have less control over Fultz’s jumper.
Fultz has played back-to-back games now. Monday, he scored 10 points, including two jumpers. Wednesday, Fultz only scored three points, missing four shots and going 1-of-2 from the line. Fultz, however, impacted the game with his play making Wednesday with seven assists and his defense (one steal and one big-time rejection on Trey Burke). He’s turned the ball over once, his first time down the floor Monday, in the two combined games. Philadelphia’s remaining games were always going to be exciting as the team battles for playoff positioning, but adding Fultz in the mix makes them must-watch television.
One of the coolest things about Fultz being back has been the atmosphere at Wells Fargo Center. The reaction late in the first quarter Monday when head coach Brett Brown signaled Fultz to sub in for Ben Simmons instantly brought goosebumps. Wednesday, the 76ers actually received a delay of game warning, partially because Fultz couldn’t properly remove his warm-up pants in time as he replaced Simmons. Anytime Fultz touches the ball, anticipating the defense to see if he has a chance to do his Kevin Durant-patented hesi pull up jimbo, the crowd encourages the 19-year-old point guard loudly.
Fultz is 19. He’ll be 20 in two months. After the game Monday, he straight up didn’t respond to two questions relating to his shoulder and what exactly happened to it for him to miss all but four games leading up to his return. Obviously, the 76ers didn’t do a great job preparing him for those questions, but still Fultz acted like a 19-year-old in that situation. But, really, who can blame him? Something went terribly wrong. It might have been Fultz spending too much time reading about his jumper as he’d have to play off-ball with Simmons running the point. For some reason, Fultz hurt himself. For some reason, Fultz forgot how to shoot a basketball. Of course, a detailed explanation why would be great. But does it really matter?
Four games into his career last October, Fultz had been labeled a bust. The pressure got to him. He’ll never be able to recover. How could the top pick in the draft out of the blue develop this weird hitch in his shot? His jumper didn’t look better as the 76ers were figuring themselves out in December and January. But he kept working, and working.
Fultz hasn’t attempted a three pointer yet. Chances are he doesn’t as the season winds down. The impact he’ll make this postseason is most likely minimal. But him playing with confidence down the stretch will be essential to his development. Philadelphia’s future remains bright no matter what Fultz becomes. But let’s be real. Fultz is going to be really, really great.