June 22nd, 2017, marks one of the weirdest Draft selections ever. It’s the night the Sixers took Markelle Fultz 1st overall, after trading up, sending their third pick to Boston. The pick turned out to be Jason Tatum, making the trade even worse for Philly. They could’ve gotten a future superstar – instead, they got a two-year loan on a point guard from Washington.
Fultz’s tenure with the Sixers ended up being one of the weirdest NBA journeys in recent history. What was going to be another franchise cornerstone as a result of The Process, turned out to be a trade piece to acquire Jonathan Simmons two years later. Not worthy of the first selection, to say the least.
Markelle only played in 14 games in his rookie season due to a mysterious shoulder injury. Or at least that was reported. After an excellent Summer League performance, Fultz suffered an ankle injury and was sidelined due to a precaution. He was never the same after that.
What was once an aggressive, slashy, sharpshooting guard became a shell of himself after returning from the injury. And no, it had nothing to do with an injured ankle. It was an upper-body thing, officially described as shoulder problems, but more on the trail of the “yips.” Still upper body, but more in a head area.
Fultz came back and ultimately lost his jump shot. And no, it wasn’t because he went through a recovery process. He simply didn’t know how to shoot the ball anymore. It got to the point when it got pretty ugly, resulting in Sixers shutting him down for the rest of his rookie season. Sixers’ assistant coach Lloyd Pierce best described the situation.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before. The kid can’t shoot.”Lloyd Pierce, Tanking to the Top
There were many speculations on what happened with a young point guard, as people weren’t buying into the whole shoulder story. NBA writer Yaron Weitzman offered a behind the scenes look into what really happened with Fultz.
In his words, Fultz never really wanted to play for Philly. He groaned upon learning about the trade, as he was worried about playing in such a big market and being so close to his hometown. It’s a testament to his mindset of not being able to deal with the pressure. Because whatever anyone says, it was a part of the problem for sure.
Weitzman also exposed his mother, Ebony Fultz, as another reason for his struggles. It seems like she continued to view Markelle as her baby boy despite him being a multimillion-dollar brand. She’d call him dozens of times a day, installed security cameras around his home, and even printed dozens of flyers for Markelle’s friend Kenneth Tappin to put in their neighbors’ mailboxes, asking them to stop bothering her son.
The latter led to a huge fight, which led to her offering Markelle an ultimatum: Tappin or her. That night, Ebony and his trainer Keith Williams met Markelle at his home. Before long, Markelle and Ebony were yelling at each other. Crying, Markelle ran out of the house and into the street, barely avoiding a streaking car. Williams chased after him. “The money did all this,” Markelle, tears streaking down his face, sniveled to Williams. “I don’t want this no more. You should have left me in college. ”
During that time, Fultz was deteriorating. A small hitch had already developed. He described it as someone was holding his arms down while he was trying to lift them up. But when Brett Brown asked Williams about it, he told him, “It’s mental, Brett.” Coach Brown took it upon himself to fix his shooting. However, his methods were proven unsuccessful, as the tension in the organization was growing.
”I remember getting a phone call, and Marc Eversley is at my ass. He said, ‘Keith, this is not the f***** kid we drafted. What the f*** is going on?‘”Keith Williams, Tanking to the Top
Even the relationship between Fultz and Brown deteriorated. It got pretty ugly after Brown went on ESPN and said that Fultz was dealing with “some psychosomatic issues involved with getting over the hump.” Fultz wasn’t happy with it, as it seemed that the whole player-coach dynamic was ruined.
Fultz’s hail Mary was his workouts with Drew Hanlen, the skills coach who also worked with Embiid. Despite Hanlen hyping up his progress on social media, it didn’t end with a positive outcome. In fact, Drew was the last person close to Fultz to describe his shooting difficulties as something beyond a physical injury.
“Markelle, obviously, he had one of the most documented cases of kind of the yips of basketball in recent years where he completely forgot how to shoot and had multiple hitches in his shot.”Drew Hanlen, Tanking to the Top
Markelle’s career with the Sixers ended after two years, as he was dealt to the Orlando Magic. While still being in PA, Fultz’s visited around ten shoulder specialists, none affiliated with the Sixers, and was eventually diagnosed with a nerve disorder called thoracic outlet syndrome. He was set to miss three to six weeks, but by that time, the Sixers were already over him. They’ve already decided it was time to move on.
Fultz has had a solid season with the Magic. He’s only missed one out of 65 games and had seen starting minutes in most of them. Fultz is averaging 12.1/3.3/5.2 and is finally finding his groove in the league. His jumper isn’t as smooth as before entering the NBA, but it’s useable. The most important thing is that he’s getting more comfortable out there, and I still wouldn’t write him off on having a good NBA career.
As far as mysterious injury/yips goes, it’s hard to detect one as the main problem. I think it was a combination of both. He obviously had some health problems, to begin with, but he would’ve dealt with those much earlier if his head was in the right place. The combination of being drafted to the unwanted city, his mother trying to have too much control over her son, and the pressure of playing on the biggest basketball stage in the world got the best of him. He couldn’t cope with it all.
But it’s still not over. In fact, it has only begun. He will hardly live up to the expectations of being the number one pick. But the good thing, he almost doesn’t have to anymore. He is in a new city, in front of new fans, and it seems he’s in a much better place mentally. It’s time for a new beginning for Fultz.