Philadelphia 76ers guard Markelle Fultz has struggled in his first couple of seasons in the NBA, but people should not give up on him yet.
The number one pick in the NBA Draft is always going to be under a microscope. When an entire organization thinks of you in such high regard that they are willing to select you over any other eligible basketball player in the country, expectations skyrocket.
The problem with great expectations is the lack of patience. This is not exclusive to the Philadelphia 76ers. This includes every team in every sport who has held the number one pick in the draft.
When a team has the first overall pick in a draft, that team is coming off a bad season. In most cases, the team with the number one pick is coming off a several-year run of disappointment and dysfunction.
The number one pick is supposed to be the “savior” of the franchise. He is supposed to lift the organization from the depths of futility and take it to new heights.
Perhaps unfair, when the “savior” does not immediately rescue the franchise, heat and tension arise, fingers get pointed, and jobs end up in danger.
This tale has been told thousands of times in thousands of ways. In the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this tale is told in the version of The Markelle Fultz Saga.
Everybody in Philadelphia knows the general dynamics of the story. The 76ers traded up to the number one pick in 2017 with the Boston Celtics. The pick turned into a highlight-reel, athletic shooter from the University of Washington, Markelle Fultz.
The 76ers believed they had struck gold and were ready to trot out the promising Simmons-Fultz-Embiid trio, granted that they remain healthy.
A year and a half later, Fultz been a non-factor. The player the Celtics selected with the third pick in that draft, Jayson Tatum, has shown long stretches of brilliance and was a vital part of the team coming one game away from a trip to the Finals last June.
A series of injuries combined with Fultz needing to “re-learn his basketball skills” and requesting a trade, it has seemed like a never-ending drama flick.
Over this time, Philadelphia fans have been able to cheer on the incredible Ben Simmons–Joel Embiid duo to distract themselves from the fact that Markelle Fultz looks like the Space Jam Monstars stole his talent and forgot to give it back.
He has been a disaster and has become a liability on the court. The double-clutch free throws are just salt to the wound.
Throughout the summer, he had been working with shooting coach Drew Hanlen to re-acquire the skill that made him such a coveted prospect. The issue with the shooting coach is that Fultz’s struggles are not only results of mechanical issues.
His struggles are also a result of his own mind. He has both physical and mental ailments.
Fultz is dealing with a rare physical ailment known as “thoracic outlet syndrome” which had not been diagnosed by medical professionals until earlier this month.
According to a report from mid-November, Hanlen and Fultz had discontinued their work.
Liberty Ballers reported that someone in Fultz’ camp “colorfully confronted Hanlen in person about a lack of expected results,” which led to the split.
What ever else happened between those two is a different conversation for a different day.
The conflict at hand is that it has never been about Fultz’s talent. His shooting woes exist because he has a nerve issue and also cannot seem to escape his own mind.
This has brought frustration to the city of Philadelphia; some of the toughest fans in one of the toughest media markets in the country.
Fair or foul, injuries do not mean as much to the fans. If you are on the team or you are on the court, you are expected to perform. The fans do not pay to watch you rehabilitate, they pay to watch you play basketball and help bring your team to victory.
That is just the harsh reality of things.
The 76ers are hoping Fultz can return to the court within the next month but even then, there is still another stone to turn over.
Fultz has lost his confidence.
It would be easy to sit here as an arm-chair psychologist and try to explain how Fultz can overcome his mental struggles and return to the shooter who warranted a trade-up in the draft to be the first selection.
That is a job left for the professionals.
The Philadelphia 76ers and their fans owe Fultz some more patience because he did not forget to play basketball. He needs to re-gain his mental composure and receive proper treatment for an ailment that most people do not understand.
They owe Fultz some more patience because the destiny of the 76ers is not currently reliant on Fultz. This is a team with three bona fide stars, with one of them in the middle of MVP discussions.
This is a team competing with the Raptors, Bucks and Celtics for the Eastern Conference crown. If the 76ers fail to achieve that goal, it will not be a result of The Markelle Fultz Saga.
It will be because Ben Simmons still refuses to try shooting outside of 10 feet. It will be because the chemistry of Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid is not quite so smooth. It will be because they were out-coached.
Lastly, the Philadelphia 76ers are no strangers to waiting on a draft pick.
Joel Embiid was drafted on June 26, 2014. He did not make his NBA debut until October 26, 2016. The 28-month gap in between was filled with numerous injuries and setbacks.
He went on to play a grand total of 31 games that season and had it cut short from a torn meniscus. Before the following season began, Embiid signed a contract for $148 million over five years, despite recurring injuries and a small sample size of NBA experience.
Ben Simmons was drafted with the first overall pick in 2016, just one year before Fultz. He missed the entire 2016-17 season with a leg injury.
Markelle Fultz is working on injury recovery himself, both mental and physical.
The Philadelphia 76ers have shown tremendous patience to young players dealing with ailments.
The Philadelphia 76ers have shown they will embrace their players once they are able to hit the court and perform.
Fultz’ issues are rare. This is not an un-driveable car. It is a car that needs some serious work under the hood before it returns to the road.
Markelle Fultz finds himself in an anomalous dilemma.
King Arthur will need to pull out a second coming of Excalibur from the stone after he removes the first.
Also, a player who seems unable to re-capture his mentality that brought him this far, we have never seen that.
The 76ers organization and the city should be cheering him on instead of giving up on him because all that is going to do is push him further back.
If patterns exist, Markelle Fultz’s rarities might expose themselves furthermore when he finally hits the court as Markelle Fultz, the number one draft pick. Hopefully this time, the rarities will lie on the positive end of the spectrum.
Despite the saga not even reaching it’s climax yet, Philadelphia has a lot going for them right now. The 76ers are in the heart of a conference title race with three other teams.
He has given his time and effort in strenuous fashion to prove that he was worthy of the draft pick. While traveling a path that would discourage most, he has been faithful and patient.
We must do the same.