The last thing that any 76ers fan wants to endure is another injury to one of its best young talents. Unfortunately, it seems as though that’s what the team is dealing with yet again. NBA diehards and Sixers’ fans alike have been quick to point out the new free throw form that 2017 number one overall pick, Markelle Fultz, has been deploying this preseason.
Causing many to speculate, what is the reason for the switch? When asked about it publicly, Fultz insists that he is simply, “trying new things to make free throws.” A deeper dive into the tape and the box scores show that it is not just Fultz’s free throw form that is being hampered; it is his willingness to shoot the ball from the outside at all. Pegged as a three level scorer in college–inside, midrange, three point–Fultz averaged five three point attempts per game as a Washington Husky. Willingness to shoot from the outside, including midrange jump shots, has never been a concern surrounding his game.
In his first taste of NBA action during a preseason game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Fultz displayed that same willingness to shoot from the outside as he did in college. In 22 minutes of action, he attempted 13 shots in total, 8 of which were jump shots including 3 three point field goals. This shot distribution falls in line with what you would expect from Fultz if you studied him as an NBA draft prospect or watched him play in college. After missing the Sixers’ second preseason game at home against the Celtics due to shoulder soreness, Fultz returned to the court five days later for the Sixers third preseason game in Boston. What we saw from Fultz that night was extremely abnormal. In 24 minutes, Fultz attempted 11 shots in total, only three of which were jump shots, none of which were three point field goal attempts. In addition to the lack of willingness to shoot from the outside, Fultz attempted five free throws, all of which looked grossly dissimilar to the way that he shot them at the University of Washington.
Surely, head coach Brett Brown, who has been in the gym with Fultz for the past month, has observed the 19 year-olds new, horrific shooting form. This raises the question: how can the Sixers coaching staff allow Fultz to continue shooting free throws this way? There is only one explanation: Fultz’s shoulder is hurting him more than he is letting on. At that point, it is up to the coaching staff and the team doctors to save the 19 year-old Fultz from himself. The 76ers need to take some sort of immediate action in order to prevent future, poor shooting habits, as well as further injury. I expect the Sixers to shut down Fultz for a 2-4 week stretch at some point in the beginning of the season. For the franchise’s sake, I hope that it is sooner, rather than later. It seems like the only logical explanation. A player of Fultz’s caliber would not make this drastic of a change to his shooting form unless his pain was severe.
I concede that these judgements may seem a bit premature; 46 minutes played through two preseason games is an extremely small sample size. I hope that Fultz plays the season opener in Washington D.C. and is comfortably able to revert back to his old shooting tendencies without any sign of injury. Fultz’s availability in Friday night’s preseason finale against the Miami Heat will give fans a stronger indication of whether or not the rookie will be ready to go once the games start to count. However, if Fultz’s shooting tendencies looks the same way on Friday night against Miami as they did Monday night against Boston, it would be extremely irresponsible for the franchise to continue to trot the former number one overall pick onto the court.
My prediction: Fultz plays Friday night but looks more like the Fultz we saw in his second preseason game than the Fultz we saw at Washington or during the summer league. The team will play him Wednesday in D.C. and next Friday in Philadelphia for the season opener against the Celtics. After appeasing a national TV audience and many excited season ticket holders, the Sixers will shut down Markelle Fultz for a 2-4 week stretch.