Should Markelle Fultz be a starter at the beginning of the season?
By now we all know the Markelle Fultz injury, yips, broken jumper, whatever you want to call it, saga has been one of the most complicated situations in recent NBA history. Why can’t he shoot anymore? How does someone forget how to shoot after being so efficient in college? Why was he not sitting out if he was injured? So on and so forth, the questions came pouring in all season. Even when Fultz returned to action on March 26th against the Denver Nuggets and posted 10 points and 8 assists, all people wanted to know was, what was wrong with him in the first place? Fultz played a total of 10 games to end the regular season, including a game where he slated 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists to become the youngest player in NBA history to post a triple double. He also played two games in the playoffs against the Miami Heat before he was pulled out of the lineup by coach Brett Brown because the moment seemed a little too big for the rookie guard. Even with the shooting issues, Markelle Fultz showed that he could be a serviceable player in the NBA…but the Sixers did not draft him to “serviceable.”
The Philadelphia 76ers are one of the fastest rising teams in the league and arguably one of the top five teams in the NBA. With All-star center Joel Embiid and Rookie of the Year point guard Ben Simmons being corner stones of the franchise, it seemed as if the Sixers were on the fast track to being contenders sooner than we thought. They seemed like a team who needed just one more piece. One piece that could space the floor for Joel Embiid and prevent massive double teams from coming at him; one more piece that could create their own shot off the dribble and give Ben Simmons a rest from controlling the ball almost 100% of the time; one more…well you get the picture. That piece was/is Markelle Fultz. Fultz was suppose to be the last piece of the puzzle for the Sixers to be a contending team for a championship. Yes, they would be young and only have four years of NBA playing experience between them, but they would grow together, learn from their mistakes, and their talent would eventually overcome all.
This last piece of the puzzle cannot be finished without a Markelle Fultz jump shot or with Fultz coming off of the bench. The NBA is starting to shape out to be a “If you don’t have at least 3 stars on your team, you have no shot to win” league and bench players can only get you but so far. Of course you have the occasional bench stars that are fringe starters like Lou Williams, Eric Gordon, Jamal Crawford, etc. but you don’t see those players contributing to championship teams, do you? You don’t win championships in the NBA with your bench (Grain of Salt), you win them with your stars. The NBA bench is utilized to stem the tide while your stars get a rest, unless you have one of the aforementioned players or someone in their category. The Sixers need Markelle Fultz in the starting lineup, or they may have to go back to the drawing board to acquire another dynamic player that could take them over the hump. Sometimes fans forget before the “Star Hunting,” before “Lebron James, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard to Philly,” the Sixers did not crave a third superstar. We fans did not care if we landed James or George because when we drafted Fultz and watched him put on a show in the 2017 summer league, we thought we finally had a young Big 3 that could compete and grow together to become stars.
It is now the offseason and Markelle Fultz is working with renowned basketball trainer Drew Hanlen, who has worked with players such as Joel Embiid, Jayson Tatum, Brad Beal, Kelly Oubre, etc. Fultz has been doing three-a-days in a gym to rebuild his shot and work on his game. Knowing Sixers fans are craving to see what Fultz’s new jumper looks like, Hanlen and Fultz have been teasing fans all off-season by either sending out cryptic tweets, posting pictures of Fultz’s form on social media, showing us dunking videos, or commenting under Fultz’s posts asking him to post a video of his jumper. Hanlen and his Pure Sweat team recently released a video showcasing what he goes through daily and which NBA players he trains.
In that video, you see clips of Markelle in the gym several times shooting the ball and Hanlen coaching him, but you never see a full on image of the full jumper from Fultz. In reality, we will probably not get a video this summer, and we might not even see a jump shot until Sixers training camp. But from the short clips we saw of Fultz shooting, he is releasing the ball quicker and you can tell there is no longer a hitch. Who knows if this is the final product? Again, we never saw a full jumper, only clips of Fultz’s hands and feet while shooting, but it looks promising. If there is anyone who can fix Fultz, it’s Hanlen.
Why shouldn’t Fultz start anyway? It was clear in the Boston series, in which Philly lost 4-1, that the team needed athletic wings to play defense and someone who could create their own shot. Markelle Fultz is both of those things that we desperately needed during that series – and will still need in the coming years of Sixers’ playoff runs. My expectation is that Markelle Fultz will come back better than ever and prove all of his doubters wrong. My fear is that he is babied back into the system, and the Sixers forget who he is and what he really means to this team. I will not accept Fultz starting off the year on the bench after having an entire offseason to refine his game and work on his jump shot. That is simply not what the Sixers drafted him to be. The team and their fans should not settle for anything less. The Sixers need Fultz to be that dynamic, knock-down, ball handling scorer that they drafted in order for them to take the next step. Fultz needs to be a star, and he won’t be able to grow into that coming off of the bench.