IN a results-based business like the NBA we can jump the gun when it comes to deeming a player/coach/team as useless. 2017-18 has been a forgetful first season for Markelle Fultz as a pro basketballer, with his name being mentioned in trade rumours and some going as far as to label him a bust already. Newsflash, Fultz is still a kid at just 19 and anyone declaring him as a bust right now is a fool.
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I get it, Fultz has bombed miserably in his first NBA season. The No. 1 pick in last year’s draft has lodged just 76 minutes this year, all of which came in the Sixers first four games. A ‘scapular muscle imbalance’ hampered his shot early causing shoulder issues and Fultz has been on the sidelines since trying to resolve this issue. Since then we have relied on phone-captured videos at Philadelphia shooting sessions for updates on Fultz. And they aren’t pretty…
WITH a clunky jump shot, Fultz looks like a shadow of the Washington product that averaged over 23/5/5 in his freshman campaign. While Fultz was never a knockdown shooter for the Huskies he did shoot over 40% from 3-point land, but just a measly 64.9% from the charity stripe. His scoring instincts and playmaking skills made him a consensus No. 1 pick around the league last year and the Sixers even moved up in the draft to assure Fultz would wear their jersey.
GIVEN the current state of the 76ers franchise I can understand why there is perceived pressure on Fultz and his peers to start accumulating wins. Flanked by Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, they were meant to form an intimidating trio and start to climb back up the standings following countless years anchored at the bottom of the league. The former two are definitely doing their part, but Fultz remains glued to the bench with no idea of when he will return to the court.
Image from phillymag.com
THE shoulder injury Fultz is hampered by has been shrouded in mystery and uncertainty around its origin. There are reports that he was trying to change his jump shot and that led to the injury while other reports state that he tried to change his shot because of the injury. Regardless of which one was the chicken and which one was the egg, the issue still remains. Fultz’s jumper looks broken.
WE are accustomed to seeing rookies struggle and there have been enough cases to remind us why it is a stupid idea to consider a first-year player a bust. Let’s quickly take a look at the rookie averages from four different players.
PLAYER A: 19.0 MPG 6.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 33.3 FG%
PLAYER B: 23.5 MPG 6.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.8 APG, 41.8 FG%
PLAYER C: 10.5 MPG 3.3 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 2.1 APG, 42.3 FG%
PLAYER D: 18.2 MPG 5.6 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 5.1 APG, 47.1 FG%
IF you guessed that Player A was Markelle Fultz you would be correct. I am pretty sure you didn’t guess that the other three were Rajon Rondo (Player B), Steve Nash (Player C) and John Stockton (Player D). All four are very different players who have had four very different careers. The point remains though, throwing around the bust label after one season isn’t fair on these young men.
Image from thebiglead.com
NOW let me go on the record, I am no saint when it comes to judging a player based on a small sample size. I’m sure that I will make the mistake many times more in my life as will thousands of other media members across the globe. And while it isn’t fair that Fultz is having all these negative headlines hurled his way at just 19 years of age, it is part and parcel of being an NBA player. We are quick to make assumptions and predictions based on what we see with our eyes.
HIS rookie struggles are different from your usual first-year slump too, mainly because he hasn’t been on the court. He has been ‘returning’ to the court since early in December and yet there has been no further progress reports or signs of when we can expect Fults to suit up. Which is a real shame because a scoring punch off the bench that Fultz could potentially provide is exactly what the Sixers need right now. In the month of February, Philly was the second worst team in the league when it came to bench scoring and they are ranked 26th on the season.
FULTZ could still go on to become a perennial All-Star and be the third member of a Sixers dynamic ‘Big 3’. There’s also the very real chance that this rookie season is just the start of his issues both mentally and physically and his career will continue to spiral downwards. We just don’t know. His injury issues make his case an unusual one, a true mystery and there is a high chance we won’t see him back in uniform until next season.
HOPEFULLY he can turn his fortunes around and sort out his jump shot ASAP. The league is a lot more fun when there are young exciting players garnering national attention, and as his teammates plus the likes of Giannis, Booker, Jokic and Towns are poised to take over the league. The moral of the story is we shouldn’t give up on players so early in their NBA careers. But we do, we always do.
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