In the first week of the NBA season, one of the most discussed topics around the league pertained to 76ers rookie guard Markelle Fultz. That intrigue is no surprise due to Fultz’s status as the #1 overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft and his role as a huge piece on the rebuilding Philadelphia 76ers. However, when Fultz stepped on the court for his first regular season game, he turned heads in a way that no fan would ever imagine.
During the first few games of his career, Fultz seemed to have taken a complete 180 turn from how he was with Washington. Rather than being the kid that can break someone down and knock down a perimeter jumper in a foes face, he became scared to even shoot when he’s wide open. In fact, he hasn’t even attempt a perimeter shot since the start of the regular season.
Perhaps even worse than that, Fultz has been an absolute nightmare whenever he steps foot at the free throw line. He looks like a “deer in the headlights” as Fultz seems unsure of himself with each motion that he makes from the time he receives a pass from the coach to the release.
Markelle Fultz's first career NBA free throw = yikes pic.twitter.com/yRaRkr0Bkf— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) October 18, 2017
That indecisiveness has led him to shoot a lackluster 50% from the charity stripe on a total of 12 free throw attempts. While those struggles were initially looked at as an unfortunate mystery, it started to make total sense on Tuesday afternoon.
In an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Fultz’ agent Raymond Brothers revealed that Fultz has had a shoulder injury this season which led to him receiving a cortisone shot. That didn’t remove the discomfort that he experienced as Fultz explained that the pain was so severe that he was unable to raise his shoulder above his head. Which seems to be pretty important for basketball players.
Despite Fultz having clear discomfort with moving his shoulder, the 76ers still put him on the court for 19 minutes per night during the first four games. However, that process halted as 76ers GM Brian Colangelo announced on Wednesday morning that Fultz would miss the next three games due to right shoulder soreness. Within that interview, Colangelo stated that those issues might’ve occurred during the summer when he was apparently trying to change his shooting stroke.
Bryan Colangelo just implied Markelle Fultz trying to change his shooting mechanics sometime in August might've caused the shoulder problem.— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) October 25, 2017
Why would a guy that shot 41% from beyond the arc feel like he needed to change his stroke? Did the 76ers know that he was experiencing pain during the off-season? If so, why didn’t they just stop him? Answers to those questions may never happen.
What we do know is that Fultz currently stands as a young 19-year-old with ridiculously high expectations that was put out on the floor when he didn’t have total movement in one of his shoulders. That’s just heightened in the current era where every move a player takes can get critiqued on social media and ESPN in a 24/7 occurrence. That could definitely hurt the psyche for a young player that was just playing in high school gyms just 20 months ago.
Those issues just gives me one thought; Markelle Fultz should spend some time in the G League. Obviously there could be some immediate backlash from fans or analysts that would see this move as a demotion. However, this could be a huge benefit for Fultz in the long run. Rather than having his flaws aired out during a live NBA game, the 19-year-old can just spend some time in Delaware where he can just focus on himself. With a wide array of 87ers and 76ers coaches at his disposal, Fultz can refine his free-throw or perimeter shooting woes in relative peace and quiet.
Once he starts to regain that confidence and ready to actually play, Fultz could either practice against the 87ers or play in a G League game. For the first option, he’d have an opportunity to play against solid guards like James Blackmon, Andrew Andrews, Tyler Haws or Jacob Pullen. While they’re not at the same level of Jeryd Bayless or JJ Redick, its still the best talent that a young player could go up against if the 76ers are on the road when this hypothetical situation occurs.
While its less likely, the 76ers organization could decide to conclude his G League stint by putting him in an actual game. Not only would Fultz’s presence give a huge boost to the 87ers ticket sales, but the young player would be able to fit the finishing touches on the rehabilitation process before he’s ready to go back on an NBA court.
After an extremely awful first week of his NBA career, Markelle Fultz needs a way to just turn the page and build the confidence that he lost. In my eyes, a stint in the G League would be a great way for him to do just that as he’ll just have an avenue to recover from his sore shoulder in a way that won’t debilitate his psyche for years to come. Once he’s able to regain the confidence, there’s a chance that he could become the same player that the 76ers knew they had when they selected him 1st overall in this summer’s NBA Draft.