Less than a week before the Philadelphia 76ers open up training camp for the 2018-19 season, we got an answer — or the beginnings of one, at least — to one of the biggest questions facing the franchise: Yes, Markelle Fultz can shoot again.
Markelle Fultz's new jumper 👀
— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) September 20, 2018
It doesn’t look exactly the same as the form he used to become an off-the-dribble pull-up nightmare and shoot 41.3 percent from the college 3-point line in his lone year at the University of Washington, a standout campaign that led to him being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft. The action’s starting earlier, coming all in one motion; the release point’s lower, before he reaches the height of his jump. But coming off a disastrous rookie season scuttled by the bizarre saga of a haunted, busted and disappearing jumper, and after a summer of rebuilding work with skills trainer Drew Hanlen, Fultz appears to have the makings of a smoother, simpler shot — one that, good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, he might be able to repeatedly make from farther than eight feet away from the basket.
The video evidence comes as part of a longer chat between Fultz and fellow Washington product/Denver Nuggets point guard Isaiah Thomas for The Players Tribune’s “For the Record” interview series. The conversation, with Thomas serving as interviewer and Fultz as subject, serves as something of a mediated, managed reintroduction to 20-year-old — a reminder of his prep pedigree, the hype that attended his commitment to the University of Washington, the fact that he was consistently pegged as the top prospect in his draft class all throughout his lone season on campus, and that he was, in fact, 2017’s top pick, ahead of the likes of Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell.
The reason we need to be reminded of that, of course, is that Fultz’s rookie season became one of the strangest derailments in recent NBA memory: the total devolution of a sweet-shooting pick-and-roll playmaker who showed up to training camp shooting free throws like Shaq, who all but refused to look for his shot early in the season, and who wound up shut down and deactivated for the bulk of the campaign, all while his agent, his longtime trainer, his team and various other sources all bandied about different theories and explanations for why Fultz all of a sudden couldn’t seem to shoot.
Fultz eventually returned to the court in late March, showing flashes of brilliance in a 10-game cameo before landing outside the rotation for the Sixers’ postseason run. The 76ers attributed everything to a scapular muscle imbalance in his right shoulder. Hanlen, his summertime trainer, later pegged the issue a bit higher in the body, saying Fultz “had one of the most, you know, documented cases of kind of the yips in basketball in recent years, where he completely forgot how to shoot, and had multiple hitches in his shot.” Whether the culprit was the former, the latter or (more likely) at least a bit of both, the season provided one hell of an introduction to adversity for the No. 1 pick.
“I think I learned more than most rookies learn, just because of the stuff I went through with injury and everything like that,” he told Thomas. “[…] It was a lot of things going on, about changing shots, and this and the third, but it was an injury there. And me, I’m a hooper, so I was like, ‘Man, this ain’t gonna stop me.’ So once I realized I really couldn’t do stuff to my full capacity, I was like, ‘It really is something,’ so I had to find out what it was. And we did that throughout the season.
“It took a long time, which people really didn’t understand. They thought, like, ‘Man, he’s just being soft.’ But, I mean, it was really an injury, and now I got a chance to just sit down and pick apart all these doctors. We figured it out, and I’ve been back to work this summer, and everything’s back to even better than what it was.”
Having gone through that learning experience and, after a reported 150,000 shots worth of work this summer, come out the other side, Fultz now sounds eager to show that he’s whole again, fully intact and capable of being the sort of difference-making backcourt talent evaluators expected him to be coming out of college.
“Right now, I’m real excited just to go out there and showcase, like, my full ability,” Fultz said. “It’s going to be a surprise, really — that’s why you don’t see me on social media right now, posting videos of me shooting. Because I want it to be special when I come back, and I want to have people guessing. So this is going to be good.”
Surprises are great, but evidence of a thing being good is pretty great, too, and I’d have to imagine that Sixers fans are pretty pleased to find out that Fultz does, indeed, appear to have a workable shot now. Whether he’s capable of replicating that at full speed in live action, whether off the dribble or off the catch, figures to be the most important aspect of his development this season and one of the key components of whether Philadelphia can push the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors for Eastern Conference supremacy now that LeBron James has headed west.
A version of the 76ers built around All-NBA center Joel Embiid and Rookie of the Year point guard Ben Simmons won 52 games and made the second round of the playoffs; a version featuring another year of development from those two, plus a fully operational Fultz who can break down defenses and make them pay from deep, could be an even more nightmarish problem for opponents to solve.
“Sixer fans are going to get someone that’s going to come in and play hard,” Fultz told Thomas. “I mean, I think I’m gonna be that guy that’s gonna be able to create shots for himself and his teammates — that guy that, at the end of the game, you don’t really need to call a play. I’m gonna get out there on defense; most people don’t know that I like to block shots, so I’m going to be a big point guard out there. So, I mean: just come and prove myself. Just show why I belong.”
That’s the vision that Fultz has for himself and his team in the season ahead. Now, thanks to few snippets of video that provide at least the underpinnings of a proof of concept, Sixers fans and league observers might have an easier time seeing it, too.
– – – – – – –
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Meyer’s grim warning to NFL team about Aaron Hernandez
• School official sorry for racist remark about Texans QB
• New book claims Brady feels ‘trapped’ with Belichick
• Red Sox fans make problematic discovery