- Philadelphia 76ers rookie guard Markelle Fultz has not played since October with an unspecified shoulder injury.
- Sixers president Bryan Colangelo told reporters on Friday that there’s a chance that Fultz may miss the rest of the season.
- Colangelo said Fultz has had to re-learn to shoot the ball as a result of the injury.
- Criticism will only grow as the 76ers appear to be fumbling another injury scenario to a top draft pick.
Philadelphia 76ers rookie Markelle Fultz, the guard who was the consensus No. 1 pick in last year’s deep and talented draft, has not played an NBA game since October 23.
In the time since, Fultz has been shut down with an unspecified shoulder injury that had seemingly been affecting his shot. Or perhaps it was the other way around, as Fultz’s camp and the 76ers disagreed over whether Fultz changing his shooting motion hurt his shoulder or whether he had changed his shooting motion because he hurt his shoulder.
Regardless, something was clearly off with Fultz – his shot was herky-jerky and inaccurate – and the Sixers sat him out to recover. He has since returned to the practice floor, with each video of his shooting motion in practice subject to scrutiny from the NBA world.
After initially deciding to sit him for three games, the 76ers then said he would be out indefinitely, saying he would be re-evaluated in three weeks. And though he returned to the practice floor in January, the team has still not said when he would return.
On Friday, 76ers president Bryan Colangelo gave an update on Fultz’s status and only made the entire situation more confusing.
“There’s always a chance that he’s gonna be out there soon, and there’s a chance that he’s not gonna play this year,” Colangelo said. “I can’t answer that question because we don’t know the answer to that.”
Colangelo echoed something Fultz himself said in a recent interview – that Fultz had to re-learn to shoot the ball.
“He’s literally re-trained his shooting mechanics right now.” Colangelo said.
As mentioned, reporters have filmed Fultz practicing and re-learning that shooting motion, and the results haven’t been promising. This was Fultz on Friday:
Markelle Fultz at shootaround: pic.twitter.com/UoLUctHKrw
— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) February 9, 2018
The mechanics look smoother than they did a few weeks ago, but he doesn’t look anywhere close to game-ready. It doesn’t appear as though he could get his shot off against NBA defenses.
Adding to the concern, Colangelo described Fultz’s shooting range as “in the paint,” though he said Fultz could still help the team upon returning, regardless of his shooting.
“Again, there’s a long recovery. It’s taken probably longer than anyone had hoped or imagined,” Colangelo said.
The Sixers would be spared some criticism if this wasn’t the third year in a row in which injury woes have plagued their top draft picks. Joel Embiid missed the first two years of his career with a foot injury, the second coming from a reported setback that forced him to miss another year.
Embiid returned to the floor and dominated in his first season in 2016-17, but he did so without last year’s No. 1 pick, Ben Simmons, who also missed his rookie season with a foot injury.
The Fultz injury saga seems more bizarre and confounding than Embiid and Simmons. Colangelo on Friday insisted there was no structural damage in Fultz’s shoulder, reiterating that they’re not sure how the injury occurred.
The 76ers can afford to be patient with Fultz, as Simmons and Embiid have carried the team to a 26-25 record, eighth in the Eastern Conference. The team is also wise for not rushing Fultz back – imagine the scrutiny if he returned to floor too early and struggled.
But the longer this goes on, the more intense the spotlight will become. Having a second straight No. 1 pick miss most, if not all of the season, would be a disaster.