I caught myself doing a slight fist-pump three minutes into the second quarter of the 76ers game as Markelle Fultz nailed a 14-foot jump shot for his first points of the year. I found myself saying out-loud in an empty room that his shot “didn’t look THAT bad.”
It didn’t look that bad?
I’m happy that the 2017 NBA draft #1 overall pick’s 14-foot jump shot didn’t look THAT bad?
There would be no more fist pumps after that moment. Just depression. And frustration.
Three minutes into the second quarter Fultz notched his first points of the game after taking only three shots. Until that point he was largely invisible, just a nondescript player bringing the ball up the court, immediately looking to give it up to either Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid, and then almost hoping to disappear into the comfortable area beyond the three-point line where he could observe the action undisturbed.
By the time Fultz made his first not-as-quite-herky-jerky-but-still-slowly-developing jump shot, Jayson Tatum already had 12 points and was making his impact felt on both ends of the court.
Tatum poured in another 11 points to pace the Celtics in their decisive season-opening victory over the Sixers. Fultz would spend almost the entire second half on the bench drinking Gatorade.
The chasm between the two players has never been deeper, darker, or more evident than it was last night. If you fell into the black abyss and screamed out “trust the process,” it would echo back 10-times over before you finally hit the hard, cold ground.
Look, it’s just one game. I know it. You know it. The 76ers know it. But as I watched and caught myself celebrating a jump shot Jerryd Bayless could make 9 times out of 10, depression wrapped around me like a dull, weighted blanket. As Tatum effortlessly glided up and down the floor, getting his shot off against defenders whenever he wanted, I was looking for the fleeting scraps of positivity in Fultz’s game, trying to latch on to anything good.
That’s not the way I want to watch these games. Having to find the rays of sunshine that occasionally peak through the violent storm clouds of his career is not what any of us want to do, or envisioned ourselves doing, in the second year of Fultz’s career.
It’s depressing to have to claw and clutch at the moral victories of such a highly touted college prospect, who let’s not forget was the OVERWHELMING choice to go #1 in the draft two years ago, and embarrassingly fist-pump on our couches because he made a run of the mill jump shot.
It’s early, and throwing Fultz into the incinerator after disappearing on the national stage of opening night wouldn’t be fair to him. The talent is there, the confidence obviously is not, and he can still turn into a valuable piece of the 76ers puzzle. Hell, early last season Tatum wasn’t the player we saw last night. He grew into the role and his game peaked marvelously in the playoffs.
Can Fultz do the same thing? Can he keep working, keep grinding, and become the player we all hope he will? It’s possible, the window isn’t closed, but tangible progress needs to be made and it needs to be made soon, or Fultz might as well just cast himself into that chasm before the fans do it for him.
In two months I want to be fist-pumping as he confidently makes a go-ahead driving layup or a 20-foot jump shot in the fourth quarter, not limply celebrating yet another hesitant, second quarter shot that may or may not go in.
Go grab a shovel, Markelle, because it’s time to start filling up that chasm, bucket by bucket.