By Elijah Silas-Tafelsky
Being the first overall pick in the NBA draft is a blessing and curse. On one hand, you are showered with praise for all the hard work you have put in to get to this point. Your also expected to be a game changing franchise player for at least the next 10 years. While all that is great you also have the pressure of living up to all the hype and if you don’t show signs of doing that early on in your career you start to feel the heat and pressure bearing down on you.
That seems to be the case already for the most recent number one pick Markelle Fultz. Coming into the 2017 NBA draft Fultz was tabbed as one of the best point guards anyone had seen in recent memory. Standing at 6ft 4 with premier ball handling skills and a consistent jump shot, Fultz was an almost certain bet to be the number one overall pick. So far, Fultz has struggled out of the gate in his NBA career. He’s only played in 4 games as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers averaging 6.0 PPG, 1.8 APG, 2.3 RPG while averaging 19 minutes a night. Fultz has now missed the last 10 games because of a shoulder injury and as recently as two days ago Fultz still has no timetable for his recovery and return to the court.
One of the big takeaways and likely reason for Fultz’s struggles during the pre-season and into his first 4 games of the regular season is that he began experimenting with free throw shot that went viral on social media. Honestly, his revamped free throw shooting motion looked like someone who had never played basketball before. In college, Fultz shot only 64.9% on free throws so the Philadelphia 76ers believed they could fix that by changing his shooting form during the summer. Fultz’s longtime trainer and mentor, Keith Williams said that Fultz began tweaking his shooting form because of the pain he felt in his shoulder as opposed to the other way around. Then news emerged that Fultz would be out indefinitely with soreness and scapular muscle imbalance in his right shoulder.
The whole situation is complicated and confusing but what we do know is that Fultz is out indefinitely, something the 76ers are used to with their top draft picks. In 2014, 3rd overall pick Joel Embiid missed his first two season because of foot injuries, while 2016 first overall pick Ben Simmons missed his first season because of a broken foot. There is hope though for Fultz as both Embiid and Simmons have returned to health and have been dominating the league and have 76ers thinking playoffs this season. Adding Fultz would only increase the 76ers chances of making the playoffs.
Fultz’s fate could ultimately turn out to be a Greg Oden or Anthony Bennett. He could also turn out to be the next Kyrie Irving or John Wall. There has already been so much criticism for a player who has barley been on the court. Keep in mind Fultz is only 19 years old and yet people have already labeled him as a bust. Celtics fans feel like they won the lottery by trading away the number one pick for the third and selecting Jayson Tatum who has arguably been the best rookie in the NBA season.
I’m here writing this story to say, “not so fast” on proclaiming Fultz as a bust. First off, look at the numbers Futlz put up in college. 23.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 5.7 APG, 1.6 SPG and 1.2 BPG. Not to mention he shot 41% from three-point range and attempted 126 of them on the year. Being from Seattle, I got a chance to see Fultz play in person at Washington and he was incredible. Granted the Washington Huskies were bad last season and Fultz had to carry the Huskies in a lot of games before they shut him down for the last few games season because of a knee injury. But even when he had constant double teams or the opposing team’s best defender guarding him, Fultz would find a way to put up incredible numbers.
Fultz has also dealt with criticism and failure before. He was cut from the varsity basketball team as a sophomore at DeMatha Catholic in Maryland and sent to the JV team. DeMatha is a powerhouse basketball program that has produced the likes of Victor Oladipo, Jarrett Jack Adrian Dantley to name a few current and past NBA players. Fultz was on no one’s radar heading into his junior season’s and was getting zero love from even small D1 schools, but after being cut he rededicated himself to improving his overall game and in a flash Fultz was jumping up recruiting boards during his Junior season and the summer before his senior year. He rose all the way to top five status among many major recruiting sites and committed to the University of Washington because they were one of the first teams to recruit him before his stock took off in the recruiting world.
Another thing I get from watching him Fultz play a lot is that he is as humble as they come. Fultz has some Kawhi Leonard to him where it looks like he never smiles, but really Fultz is focused and plotting his next move. He’s a quiet assassin on and off the court. His calm demeanor should only help him thrive once he gets back on the court.
This shoulder injury is a tough blow for Fultz to have to endure early in his career. I’m sure as a first overall pick all you want to do is be out there helping your team win games and living up to the hype everyone billed you as.
For now, though Fultz will rehab and patiently wait to get back out on the court and when he does return I’m confident he will prove the doubters all wrong like he has done so many times in the past.