After poor start to his career, many are quick to label Philadelphia 76ers rookie Markelle Fultz as overrated and a bust. It is time to take a step back and look at the situation more clearly.
There is no denying the fact that these first few games have not been pretty for the rookie. After his comments on the team’s playoff hopes coupled with the expectations of being drafted first overall, poor play is welcomed and blown out of proportion by analysts, draft experts, and Celtics fans looking to prove that Danny Ainge is a basketball mastermind.
The first problem pointed out is the funky shooting form. No matter how much you love Fultz, watching him shoot a free throw will make you cringe. However, how he shoots a free throw three games into his rookie year by no means signifies he has a broken shot. It is a completely different form from his college days, where his entire motion and flow looks regular and comfortable. Now, when breaking down the form, it almost seems as though he is pushing the ball toward the basket. In the college clip, he extends his arms fully upward when shooting, providing more of an arched shot.
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Many have questioned why he has chosen to adjust his form at such a late stage in his career instead of the more relevant question: what has CAUSED his form to vary so drastically. A reported shoulder injury that has lingered since preseason seemed to be the likely answer, but would a team that sat Simmons a season, and Embiid two, really risk having Fultz play through an injury?
Apparently the answer is yes. Adrian Wojnarowski recently reported of Fultz having fluid drained from his shoulder, and his agent, Raymond Brothers, explaining how Fultz cannot raise his arms to shoot the ball due to pain. This explains the change in shooting form, to more of a push, with much less arch on the shot. It also shines clarity on his lack of shooting, going from shooting over 40 percent from three in college to not recording a single attempt in four games, according to ESPN. A stronger shooter in college, it would be unreasonable to expect Fultz to suddenly fear the three point line without a viable excuse.
Not being able to shoot a free throw smoothly should not be detrimental to a player talented enough to be drafted first overall. He showcased natural talent and athleticism at Washington that had NBA scouts drooling, enough that even with a nine win season he remained on top of NBA draft boards. So far, Fultz has seemed hectic and occasionally out of control while handling the ball, rushing to the basket and taking ill-advised shots. With seven assists and six turnovers this season, it is obvious he needs to relax and slow down on offense.
Fortunately, the Philadelphia 76ers guard is still 19 years old with plenty of time to grow. He played JV in high school, went to a college lacking any NBA talent (due to the early departures of Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss), and failed to get quality playing time in summer league and preseason.
His lack of experience compared to other rookies is strikingly low and often overlooked for being the third youngest rookie in the league, according to basketball-reference. The problem with that is current elite players never struggled early in their career. John Wall never had doubters surrounding him, Steph Curry was always incredible and trusted by management, and James Harden played flawlessly his entire career. Give Markelle Fultz some time, and improvement will come. Simmons and Embiid had a combined three years of training before even stepping into an NBA game, a luxury Fultz did not have.
Brett Brown should be doing a better job at putting Fultz in these situations to grow and improve. Ben Simmons‘ outstanding start to his rookie season results in the ball being in his hands whenever Simmons is in the game. Often Fultz runs as shooting guard, getting the ball on the wing out of his natural position, and is looked to create for himself. When Simmons sits, McConnell often occupies the role as lead handler for the team, once again pushing Fultz off the ball and into the shooting guard spot.
Unlike what is normally expected for the number one overall pick, Fultz was unable to start this season due to lack of experience and playing time against starting-caliber competition. One should not expect this valuable experience to come playing the role of a shooting guard, but instead running the offense and learning from his mistakes.
The Sixers can shoulder his growing pains while winning games due to their peculiar situation. Often, a team drafting first overall is looking to find their cornerstone and franchise player to build around. The Philadelphia 76ers were looking for their third best player to build around Embiid and Simmons. Here is a player that drew comparisons to James Harden, being the future third option on the team. He does not need to be anything close to perfect yet, which should relieve some of the pressure felt so far this season.
Yes, Markelle Fultz has struggled so far this year and yes, his shot looks out of wack. This by no means points to him being a bust. Fans should always keep in mind just how young some of these players are, and that the immense potential talked about during draft time is called “potential” for a reason. Give Fultz a chance to learn and expand his game, while growing next to future stars Embiid and Simmons, and all the fans in Philadelphia will soon be extremely happy.