It’s been roughly 10 months since the Philadelphia 76ers moved on from their miserable marriage with former No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz, as the franchise elected to ship the top selection in the 2017 NBA Draft to the Orlando Magic on Feb. 7 for Jonathon Simmons and two draft picks.
At this point, almost everyone knows the dynamics of the 76ers’ saga with Fultz, but we can get into a quick recap.
Philadelphia marked Fultz as their man and swapped spots with the Boston Celtics ahead of the 2017 NBA Draft, as they sent the No. 3 overall pick and a protected future first-rounder to the Celtics for the top spot.
Many pinned Fultz as the final piece to complete Philadelphia’s prolonged process, as he would be joining some other thrilling young talent such as Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric in what would make up one of the league’s most explosive young cores.
What ensued might be the most puzzling basketball chronicle of recent memory.
There are tons of sources you could reference, but no matter how reputable, I doubt any will be able to unearth the truth about what happened to Markelle Fultz and his ability to shoot a basketball. It honestly was like Space Jam had come to life.
Interesting how dramatically different Markelle Fultz's FT stroke looks here compared to @ UW (65%). Has lowered release point considerably. pic.twitter.com/6REIFX0qtR
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) September 28, 2017
It was evident that the once smooth-shooting star had tinkered with his form, something that had been confirmed by both Fultz and 76ers head coach Brett Brown, but was refuted by Fultz’s former trainer Keith Williams.
“I can’t speak for [the Sixers],” Williams said on The Carlin and Reese Show, per Neubeck. “But he never changed his shot, I can assure you that … You can look at his stats, he was one of the best shooting freshman point guards ever in terms of shooting off the dribble and catch-and-shoot, and that’s what made him such a great pickup for Philly. That’s what they were looking for, so why would someone who shot so well change his shot?”
On Sept. 29, 2017, Philadelphia ruled Fultz out indefinitely with soreness and scapular muscular imbalance, and many rumors about Fultz’s psychological state in regards to basketball would be churned out between the time the initial injury announcement was made until when he returned to the floor for the 76ers on March 26.
Fultz appeared in 14 games for Philly in his rookie campaign, averaging 7.1 points per game on 40% shooting and 47% from the free-throw life. Yuck.
That summer Fultz tucked himself in the gym with renowned Drew Hanlen in hopes of sharpening his skills and burying an ugly rookie season.
After a wayward start to his second year as a pro (Fultz was averaging 8.2 points per game on some ghastly percentages), Fultz was ordered by his attorney, Raymond Brothers, to see a shoulder specialist as there was concern about another injury.
A few weeks later on Dec. 3, 2018, Fultz was ruled out once again due to a nerve issue in his shoulder.
Agent Raymond Brothers: “Markelle (Fultz) has been diagnosed with Neurogenic Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, (TOS), a physical injury.
TOS affects nerves between the neck and shoulder resulting in abnormal functional movement and range of motion, thus severely shoot a basketball…”
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 4, 2018
Prior to Fultz being ruled out in early Dec. of 2018, there were murmurs that he had asked to be traded, but those rumors were denied by Fultz’s party. However, if that truly was his wish, it would eventually be granted as he’d never play another game for the 76ers before being traded to Orlando.
With the Magic, Fultz has found himself in a low-maintenance situation devoid of the pressure that is packed with championship aspirations, which affords him the space to blossom into… whatever he’s going to become.
While he may not reach that superstar ceiling we once expected he’d sprout to, he still has the makings of a more than serviceable NBA point guard, and I’d be willing to bet he surpasses that denomination.
At 21-years-old, Fultz still has the luxury of time on his side, not making it out the realm of possibility that he does become an All-Star caliber player in the near future.
If you really think about it, this season is essentially his rookie year and the first time he’s been situated in a state of normalcy since he’s stepped foot in the Association.
Fultz is currently averaging 12 points, 4.1 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game while shooting 48% from the field and 79% from the free-throw line and looking reassured in his abilities.
Jonathon Simmons, who was traded for Fultz this past Feb., logged 52 total minutes for the 76ers in the 2019 NBA Playoffs and is currently not on an NBA roster.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Philly’s relationship with Fultz eroded to the point where things we’re irreparable, but a part of me wants to deem the deal as shortsighted on the 76ers’ part.
If Fultz were on this current version of the 76ers, he’d be the leading scorer on a second unit that currently ranks 28th league-wide in points per game.
Philadelphia is pressed for a second unit scorer that can solidify their standing as NBA Finals contenders, and with limited assets, they’ll have to scan the sometimes scant buyout market if they’re unable to execute a trade.
Fultz may lack the experience of someone like a Jamal Crawford, but he’s a long-term investment that can still prove to pack a punch off the bench in the immediate.
He’d give Philly’s bench the playmaker that it’s starved for, serving as their primary orchestrator off the pine with the potential of eventually out-sizing that role.
When I close my eyes and retreat to NBA Fantasy Land, I have visions of Fultz breaking down the defense and zipping a pass to an uncovered Furkan Korkmaz (who is shooting a spicy career-high 36% from downtown) on the wing.
I also see the former No. 1 overall pick damaging defenses out of the pick-and-roll with either Al Horford or Embiid. Man, what could’ve been.
I’m not big on giving up prematurely on young, promising talent, and to me doing so becomes more problematic when that youngster is a former No. 1 overall pick that oozes (borderline) star potential.
Of course, there’s a different type of patience that’s latched on to being a No. 1 pick and fans had felt as if the clock had already ticking too long, but the prospect of a fruitful reward still loomed in the former of Fultz.
A little more forbearance couldn’t be exercised by the franchise and their fans?
There’s difficulty in pinpointing what Fultz will ultimately turn into long-term, but Philly should’ve sat on him a little longer to see if they’d ever be able to truly integrate him into the process.
Maybe his potential never would’ve been maximized with the 76ers, but the worst-case scenario could’ve been Fultz’s play enticing a team to offer a trade package that featured something more fruitful than Jonathon Simmons.
Fultz’s shooting is still shaky and he’s not logging tons of minutes, but he’s finishing like a maniac at the rim and is beaming with renewed confidence on a game-to-game basis. He’s an intrinsic part of a team vying for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and continued growth on his part could help the Magic climb a few rungs on the ladder as the years pass.
I’m sure Philadelphia already rue’s passing on Jayson Tatum in the 2017 NBA Draft, and they’ll be even more remorseful when they reflect on the Markelle Fultz trade if he becomes a multi-time All-Star or even close to it.