January 02, 2018
Sixers fans have been waiting for a comprehensive update on rookie guard Markelle Fultz for some time. They are still waiting for one in 2018, but the Washington product made his return to (visible) practice on Tuesday, and that in itself is a big deal.
Let's start with the press release. The Sixers sent out a brief note in advance of opening practice up to the media on Tuesday afternoon, and they continued to avoid a timeline for Fultz's return to NBA action:
Philadelphia 76ers guard Markelle Fultz has been cleared to begin the final stage of his return-to-play program. The program consists of gradual re-integration into team practices and training, complemented with additional conditioning work to support fitness readiness for gameplay.
Brett Brown was the first person reporters spoke to in search of clarity here, and the coach was excited about Fultz getting closer to a return, joking with reporters that we could position ourselves to watch Markelle practice while he answered various questions about the team. He made it abundantly clear that Fultz's absence has put a lot of stress on the team, and that having him back in the mix will provide the team with a boost.
"He came out and participated in some 4-on-4 halfcourt stuff with his team, and now you're seeing what you're seeing, some light 1-on-1 stuff," said Brown. "The reality of the whole thing is, the more you feel the team and coach the team, his skillset ties so many things together. He can make plays. When you are missing some of those qualities in a group, things get exposed. He can create a shot for himself, and he can create a shot for others."
But the million-dollar question from where I sit has never been whether the team needs him (they do) or when exactly returns (I believe very soon), it's what his shot would look like when he returned. From what we were able to see in the limited time we had with him at practice, the answer right now is still a mystery.
I won't ask you to take my word for it, and I'll share the bulk of the video I was able to get from Tuesday's practice session. You are all free to draw your own conclusions from there.
Let's start with the longest jumper he took at practice. It's of the flat-footed variety and not indicative of what you'd see from him during a game, but I can say without hesitation it's the longest jumper I've seen him attempt in months. Doing so in front of the media is a definite change of pace from recent fare.
If you want to stay in a positive mindset, the best shot we saw from Fultz all afternoon was this short take on a pull-up against James Michael McAdoo, where the form bore a resemblance to the shooting we saw during his college career and briefly during Summer League. If every shot moving forward looked like this — and he made a bunch of them, of course — everyone would probably breathe a sigh of relief.
Not everything came so naturally, however. Fultz took a pull-up jumper from the other side of the court earlier in the session, and it looked more like the bastardized version of his shot that we saw during training camp and the early part of the regular season.
It's a fool's errand to read too much into anything you're seeing at the end of a practice.
Fultz was very clearly changing speeds and levels of seriousness during the action we watched, and ultimately all that matters is what he looks like when a real game is happening. His shots could look or feel however you'd like in practice, but it's getting them off and making them during a full-speed game that really matters.
Overall, I thought Fultz looked pretty good for a guy who we haven't seen play much in months. He was spirited with his teammates, showed off a variety of different moves as a dribbler and finisher, and was as outwardly comfortable as he has looked in recent memory. The craft in his game has not disappeared, and Sixers fans have to be excited about getting someone with a scorer's mentality back in the lineup.
My best piece of advice would be to prepare for some inconsistency. He still has to go through the process of adjusting to NBA competition and game speed, and he'll go through all the struggles you'd expect a rookie guard to go through.
If he's playing in 4-on-4 activities, logic suggests his return may be sooner than you think. Until then, this is the best we have. Savor it.
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