February 09, 2018
When Markelle Fultz was drafted out of the University of Washington, the Sixers and their fans believed they had a no-doubt boost for their young core. After watching him shoot 41 percent from three in his lone college season, expectations were high for how he could space the floor around Ben Simmons.
But his jump shot has long since come into question, following a months-long saga with mysterious shoulder injuries and ugly practice footage. And during a press conference on Friday morning the team expected to be about the trade deadline, Bryan Colangelo was asked about whether Fultz's range would be a determining factor for when he stepped on the court.
"I think he's got to feel right, and we've got to feel right ... Everything within a certain range, it's beautiful," said Colangelo. When pressed on what the range currently is, Colangelo offered a revealing answer: "It's within the paint basically. Paint shots, perimeter shots are kind of where you draw a line. But anything instinctive going to the hole, talk about shot creation and what he's able to do just some of the rise ups, it's nice to see."
Of all the things we've seen and heard over the last six months, this may be the most preposterous. A player who was seen taking step-back, NBA-range threes (and making them!) as recently as July now has his range limited to shots within the paint. He went from a guard drawing comparisons to Kyrie Irving coming out of college, to a 6'4" Ben Simmons without the same size and athleticism to overcome the lack of shooting.
Colangelo shared that the Sixers have no idea when he's going to return — he explained he could return very soon or could miss the rest of the season — but regardless of when he comes back, Fultz lacking a jumper would create a completely untenable situation. They did not trade up with a division rival to get a guy who can't shoot beyond 10 feet.
What really stuck out to me was the explanations being offered on how we got here to begin with. To hear the Sixers tell it all these months later, Fultz's shot mechanics broke down as a product of the scapular muscle imbalance they've said he's dealing with. Colangelo stuck by this story on Friday.
Markelle had an injury as you all are aware ... That injury led to a lack of muscle control and coordination, of his muscles. Through physical therapy and strength and conditioning and now increasing basketball activities, with respect to every aspect of his preparedness to play, whether it's the physical component, the shot mechanics, everything.
Back when he had an MRI, there was nothing that was indicated on the MRI showing any structural damage. He was struggling as you know, and we shut him down. We further reviewed his case, and tried to dive deeper, and found that there was a scapular injury that was causing the breakdown. So that is what is being dealt with, that is why he's going through a long and difficult recovery, and that's what he's working on.
He's retraining his shooting mechanics, he's retraining his muscle movement patterns, all those things.
Within that explanation, Colangelo explains the rebuilding of his shot mechanics and retraining muscle movement patterns as two separate ideas. From the outside, that's extremely problematic.
If that muscle weakness or breakdowns are causing the shooting issue, okay. It's a bummer, but it's understandable. But when the player is healthy and that muscle strength and normal patterns are reestablished, the shot mechanics should come with it. In broader terms: if you point to something as the cause, and then you solve said cause, the related problems should be alleviated. If not, you have not properly or publicly identified what the cause is to begin with.
When I followed up with Colangelo on that idea and said it makes it sound like there are several other problems at play, he bristled at the suggestion.
I don't think so at all. They're really two in the same and they're related. Again, it was a breakdown in muscle function and coordination. Once you get that back, which is not fully back when you're going through this recovery and rehabilitation. You're also simultaneously trying to retrain what those movement patterns were where you can shoot a basketball.
There have been some limitations for some time and he's getting through it. Again, there's a long recovery. It's taken probably longer than anyone had hoped or imagined. But again, he's making progress and headway and I fully anticipate that he'll be out there doing what he does so well, which is scoring the basketball and creating for with others and impacting our team in a positive way, hopefully in the near future.
He's not the only one at the practice facility getting mad about the situation. JJ Redick was out on the court getting shots up during shootaround this morning, and he let some choice words fly as the media assembled to watch Fultz shoot. "The kid's f**king 19," he made sure to say pretty loudly.
The assembled media followed up with Redick about his feelings, and he offered a little bit more substance to his feelings.
"It is annoying, the guy's 19, he's working his ass off. I understand fans want to see his progress, but this is maybe going to be a longer process than we all hoped for," said Redick. "I don't get the coming in here every day to like, watch him shoot pull-up jumpers. It's a little obsessive ... we all want to see him back on the court, doing what he loves to do."
With all due respect to Redick, who is doing what you'd expect any good teammate to do, this is far beyond just wanting to watch a guy shoot jumpers. It's a kid who the Sixers gave up multiple highly-valuable assets to acquire, and one who came in with expectations he would shoot at a high level. He hasn't just fallen short of that, he has reached a point where his own GM admits he's not shooting beyond the paint.
The contradictions from the Sixers persist on several fronts. Speaking with the media on Tuesday night, Brett Brown said the only thing he has really been taking Fultz out of has been conditioning drills. Asked about why that's the case on Friday, Colangelo denied that is the case.
I don't know that he's being taken out of conditioning drills, per se. He's taken out of various drills in practice situations, in practice settings, where he either is not able to continue or where there are situations that are situations that are more conducive for the players that are actually playing the games, meaning we have to prepare opponents and we have to go through things that the active roster has to participate in.
There are occasional moments where he is still continuing to fight through the physical fatigues of some of the rehabilitation activity. Again, a lot of physiotherapy, intensive strength and conditioning, a lot of increase in basketball activity.
The Sixers, on basically every level of this story, have shown themselves unable to keep a story straight. That in itself says a lot about where we are at with Markelle Fultz, and why there is seemingly no explanation for why the No. 1 overall pick can't shoot.