Why Markelle Fultz is No Bust
I’ve never been a fan of labels, particularly in sports. Attributing a term like “bust” to an athlete barely into their twenties seems irresponsible and lazy. There are a multitude of variables that can influence an athlete’s performance; ownership, coaching, team composition, training staff, personal stability, health, etc. At the end of the day the NBA is results-driven business, and fans are going to make value judgments based on a player’s on-court performance.
Take Markelle Fultz, the former number one pick in the 2017 draft. Fultz knows a bit about labels. In 2016, Fultz was hailed as one of the top 5 prospects in the nation while playing at powerhouse Dematha Catholic High in Maryland. Fultz solidified his position as the number one player in his class during his only year at the University of Washington. For all intended purposes, Fultz possessed everything a front office looked for in a number one pick. Fultz displayed the acumen, pedigree, and measurables needed to be a day one starter in the NBA.
The union between the Sixers and Fultz seemed perfect until “it” happened, “It” being Fultz’s injury. The crazy thing is, to this very day, I don’t think the Sixers brass knows how “it” all happened. Markelle Fultz missed most of his rookie season with a shoulder injury, described as a “scapular muscular imbalance.” Fultz would eventually leave the team to get reevaluated. Doctors diagnosed Fultz with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a disorder that affects the nerves between the neck and shoulders creating abnormal range of motion. Former Raptor Landry Fields retired on account of the same injury.
I listened and watched as pundits, players, and fans alike destroyed the young Fultz on social media as he fought through his shooting woes. The most damning indictment was the idea that Fultz developed a case of the “yips,” in the sports world the term is used to describe a sudden, inexplicable loss of motor skills in performance athletes. It was easier for fans to believe that the young Fultz had lost his nerve rather than struggling with an injury.
People began questioning Fultz’s toughness and mental makeup. Markelle transitioned from being one of the NBA’s biggest mysteries to one of the league’s laughingstocks; NFL players were crafting end zone celebrations around his shooting form, every sports network was running nightly segments on his reworked jump shot and the bizarre circumstances surrounding his sudden decline.
Fultz is entering his 3rd season with a new team and almost a year of rehabilitation under his belt. Expectations for Fultz look dramatically different than they did his first two seasons in the Philadelphia, Fultz isn’t a lock to start in Orlando, and the organization is handling the situation with kid gloves.The “can’t miss” prospect is now fighting for his NBA life, trying to prove he has was it takes to be a contributor on a winning team. If Fultz’s jump shot never returns to full form he still has enough tools in the shed to impact the game on both sides of the ball.
For naysayers who say there is no room for Fultz in this new perimeter-centric NBA, I’d point to the likes of Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, and Shaun Livingston, who’ve carved out successful NBA careers without the slightest semblance of a consistent outside shot.
Fultz is still on the road to recovery. I expect to see plenty of up and down nights considering how little organized basketball Fultz has played over the past two seasons. If Fultz revitalizes his career in Orlando; it won’t be because he somehow got his swagger back, it will be because Fultz and his team of healthcare professionals were able to put together a plan of action and addressed his injury, nothing more nothing less.