CAMDEN, N.J. — To quell speculation about Markelle Fultz’s troublesome right shoulder, concerns over his wayward jumper and overall panic for his uninspiring start, the Philadelphia 76ers decided on Wednesday to shut down for the next three games the No. 1 overall pick from last June’s NBA draft. Addressing reporters as the team prepared to host the Houston Rockets, 76ers general manager Bryan Colangelo said the decision to rest Fultz was mutual and done with the intent of letting the rookie recover physically and mentally from his struggles.
“We embrace this next week, to try to get him 100 percent healthy and right,” Colangelo said. “There’s been a lot of noise out there, about the pain, about the impact on his shot, and we’re just hopeful we can get this resolved once and for all. Extremely confident that it’s a situation that will be resolved and he’ll resume playing at the level we all anticipate and expect from Markelle, being the player that he is.”
Fultz has complained of shoulder complications since September and had a cortisone shot on Oct. 5 to relieve some of the pain. Colangelo implied several times that the injury was likely the result of Fultz changing his shooting motion in August, following an encouraging performance at summer league. The 76ers brought Fultz off the bench in the season’s first four games, but Colangelo said there was “no structural damage” in the shoulder. Colangelo also stressed that no particular incident caused the shoulder problem. Despite being medically cleared, Fultz appeared passive on the floor, refusing to attempt any shots beyond 15 feet while missing half of his free-throw attempts.
“For me, it’s difficult because you know he’s capable of so much more,” Colangelo said. “I love what I actually see on the floor, in terms of his playmaking ability, keeping defenders off-balanced, driving to the hole and attacking the rim at a relentless pace. I think it’s probably more frustrating because of all the speculation on Twitter and social media that something is wrong with him. Nothing is wrong with Markelle Fultz. We have great confidence in what he’s capable of doing. He’s a brilliant basketball player. This is a bright, long-term future with Markelle and this organization. We’re taking a step back, taking a breath and moving forward in a conservative way.”
Given the 76ers’ recent history with injured top draft picks and the organization’s lack of transparency in those situations, fans and media were understandably confused by the drama surrounding Fultz. Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, three of their previous four first round picks, all missed entire seasons because of injury; Embiid missed two.
Philadelphia traded up from the third slot in an extremely deep draft to take Fultz with the top pick. Fultz played through the injury, given the buzz around a franchise that has started to show some promise and welcomed back healthy versions of Embiid and Simmons. But after Fultz’s agent, Raymond Brothers, explained the severity of his client’s injury to ESPN — first saying the shoulder was drained and later backtracking — and Fultz met with another shoulder specialist on Tuesday, the player met with the team and both decided to take a different strategy. Fultz will miss Wednesday’s contest against the Rockets, and a two-game road trip through Dallas and Houston. He will be re-evaluated next week.
“There’s a lot coming at every young rookie and Markelle is no different. There’s a lot of expectations out of the No. 1 pick. I think it’s unfair to judge him by what you’ve seen of the preseason, which was two games, and now four early-season games here,” Colangelo said. “No one is panicking inside here. The sky is not falling. Markelle Fultz is going to be a great basketball player for this organization, and we’re confident we’re going to get this resolved.”
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