The Markelle Fultz Saga

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Philadelphia 76ers' US Markelle Fultz (L) runs with the ball during the preseason NBA basketball game between Dallas Mavericks and Philadelphia 76ers in Shenzhen, in China's southern Guangdong province on October 8, 2018. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s no secret that Philadelphia 76ers guard Markelle Fultz isn’t currently playing. There are murky circumstances surrounding Fultz’s hiatus. However, Fultz has long since been an enigma to basketball fans throughout the nation.

The Markelle Fultz Saga

The DeMatha Debacle

While at the famed DeMatha Catholic High School, Fultz’s rise was anything but expected. Fultz’s sophomore season saw him play with the junior varsity team. According to DeMatha assistant coach Corey McCrae, Fultz was cut due to his unique gait. “He almost looked like Bambi,” McCrae said. “He was long and lanky, and he’d walk and his knees would be hurting.”

Imagine in this day and age that a player is marginalized because of his stride pattern, not his skillset. However, in his junior season (first with varsity), Fultz played his way into a national ranking. As a senior, Fultz continued his transcendent rise up the national rankings, eventually becoming the 5th ranked shooting guard in the Class of 2016.

College Recruitment

It was University of Washington Assistant Coach Raphael Chillious who noticed Fultz on the JV team while scouting the varsity team. Chillious told head coach Lorenzo Romar, “You’re going to call me crazy, but I’m watching a JV kid right now, and if he grows, he’s not an NBA player, he’s an NBA All-Star.”

Fultz chose to play his college ball at the University of Washington. Washington was the only team that openly scouted Fultz throughout the entirety of his junior and senior years in high school.

Fultz explained why he chose the University of Washington. “The main reason I am going to Washington is my connection with Coach Romar,” said Fultz. “I trust his plan for me, I feel like I fit into their system, and I know he can help me develop my game. He has coached guys that have made it to the NBA, and that’s where I want to be someday.”

“I am so close to Coach Chillious that we don’t even talk about basketball,” Fultz also said.

Days of Washington Wizardry

As a Washington player, Fultz averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists per game, while shooting and Effective Field Goal percentage (eFG) of 53.5. A 6’4 point guard with a 6’9 wingspan, Fultz was a scoring and playmaking machine. Though Fultz left NBA scouts and fans salivating for more, playing in the Pacific Northwest ultimately didn’t help. Unfortunately, Washington amassed a record of 9 wins and 22 losses. Fultz was omitted from either the All-American first or second teams.

The Rocky Transition to the NBA

Leading up to the 2017 NBA draft, there was evidence that Fultz was aware of certain comments made about him also. “They’d say, ‘He’s not a team player and he cares about scoring first,’ ” Fultz said. “It’s just funny because anybody that watches or knows me knows I’m going to try to get someone else the ball first. Some people say I pass too much.” This could have been viewed as a potential red flag for NBA decision-makers. But it wasn’t.

The top teams all wanted to interview and work out the top players. The Boston Celtics held the first overall pick. Celtics general manager Danny Ainge knew he had All-NBA point guard in Isaiah Thomas who he later traded for superstar Kyrie Irving. Days prior to the draft Ainge traded the first overall pick to the 76ers for the third overall selection and a 2019 first round pick. The 76ers drafted Fultz and thus as the Bible says “began the beginning of sorrow”.

Rocky Rookie Season

As the 2017-18 season neared, the 76ers held an open scrimmage. Here is where the Fultz’s noticeably different shot was debuted. ESPN Draft Analyst Mike Schmitz compared and contrasted the difference in Fultz’s free throw shooting at that scrimmage to his days at Washington. This new method drew immediate concern to all observers. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor tweeted, “Fultz’s jumper looked different in summer league too. It’s nice he’s trying to change his mechanics, but this could make it worse.”

76ers head coach Brett Brown was asked about the apparent change in Fultz’s shot and if he (Brown) was comfortable with the results. As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Murphy, Brown’s response was telling. “No, and so we’re gonna get back on track. His heart is in the right place. All by himself, he pivoted out over the summer and tried to make it better and tweak it, and he’s in a place right now where we’re gonna try to remind him where his shot was and try to bring that back into probably more a tighter shot, bring his release point down a little bit, bring the ball closer to his body. We have a Team Markelle all around him to help him, and he’s gonna be just fine.”

Fultz and Sixers Admit Shoulder injury

Now for the sake of transparency and clarity dates are important. Schmitz’s tweet was on September 27, 2017. On October 10, The Ringer’s O’Connor reported that Fultz was, in fact, dealing with right shoulder soreness. Fultz said, “I talk to trainers when it bothers me, and they get right to it and start working on it. When it’s not, I’m happy. Either way, I’m happy and I just go out and play.” 76ers coach Brown even changed his stance. “I think [his shoulder] is affecting him more than he lets on. You can tell with his free throw, trying to get that ball up. It’s far out from his body. He’s been working on trying to get that thing rehabilitated,” Brown said. “And the lack of the quantity of his 3-point shooting may be a sign that it’s hurting a little more than he’s letting on.”

On October 24, Fultz’s agent Raymond Brothers contacted ESPN. Ace Basketball Insider Adrian Wojnarowski reported. “Markelle had a shoulder injury and fluid drained out of the back of his shoulder. He literally cannot raise up his arms to shoot the basketball. He decided to try and fight through the pain to help the team.” Fultz’s agent later amended and clarified his statement. “Fultz had a cortisone shot on Oct. 5, which means fluid was put into his shoulder — not taken out,” agent Raymond Brothers told ESPN on Tuesday night. “My intention earlier was to let people know that he’s been experiencing discomfort. We will continue to work with (Sixers general manager) Bryan Colangelo and the medical staff.”

On October 29, the 76ers released the following statement. “The Philadelphia 76ers announced that rookie point guard Markelle Fultz will be out indefinitely with soreness and scapular muscle imbalance in his right shoulder.”

Eventually, Fultz appeared in 14 games during his rookie season.

New Season, New Outlook, New Problems?

Fast forward to September 2018. Fultz released video of an improved jump shot as he was “interviewed” by Thomas for “the Players Tribune”. Shooting guru Drew Hanlen was now Fultz’s personal coach. All seemed right with Fultz, to the point where Fultz openly stated, “Everything’s back to and even better than what it was.”

Fultz was earmarked as a 76ers starter, alongside point guard Ben Simmons, entering his second season. Brown and his staff implemented a gameplan with both players starting, though conventional wisdom suggested this alchemy proves counterproductive. But alas the truth came to light.

Fultz Free-Throw Woes Continue

video courtesy NBC Sports Philadelphia


Fallout with Hanlen

Following criticism from a rival, Hanlen tweeted that Fultz was “still not healthy”. This now deleted tweet forced both the 76ers and Fultz into a defensive stance regarding Fultz’s health. “Everything feels good,” Fultz said. “Like I said, I’m out here playing and competing every day. My shot can get better. It’s all about putting in work, like I did this summer, putting in work every day to get better. For me it’s not just my shot, it’s everything. … I want to work on defense, being a good teammate. It’s a process.”

Brown was also as dismissive. “Nobody’s ever 100 percent healthy,” Brown said. “To the best of my knowledge, he’s healthy enough to go do what he’s been doing. He’s been playing basketball and doing well. He’s fine.”

The Shoulder Injury

To this point, Fultz played 11 games and was shooting inconsistently. Two weeks following the Hanlen tweet, The Athletic’s David Aldridge reported. Aldridge tweeted, “At the direction of his attorney, Raymond Brothers,  (Fultz)is scheduled to see a shoulder specialist early next week. Per Brothers, Fultz will not participate in team practices or games until after the specialist has had a chance to evaluate him.” Note Aldridge refers to Brothers as Fultz’s attorney, not his agent. There was also talk of a right wrist injury.

On December 4, ESPN’s Wojnarowski Tweeted the following:

One day later the 76ers confirmed via statement:

As per Brothers, Fultz is expected to be out 3 to 6 weeks. 6 weeks from December 4th is January 15th. There are reports of the 76ers passively seeking to trade Fultz also, however, the 76ers are in no rush. Meanwhile, Fultz currently works out with former Lakers physical therapist Judy Seto, and the saga continues.

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