The Markelle Fultz saga was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever experienced in 10 years of covering sports. You probably feel the same, for however long you’ve been watching.
He’s no longer a Sixer, but the former #1 draft pick leaves the team having logged these numbers over a little more than a year and a half in Philadelphia:
- 33 games
- 15 starts
- 7.7 points per game
- 3.4 assists
- 3.4 rebounds
- 41% from the floor
- 26.7% from three
- 53.4% from the line
That’s the legacy of a kid who never really had it and may or may not have been dealing with a significant nerve and/or shoulder injury, depending on what side of the debate you fall on.
What I do know is that Markelle certainly had a ton of support here. You can’t say he was run out of town or never given a chance or anything even close to that. You had fans cheering him for simply taking a jump shot. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen.
I picked out 11 of the more bizarre moments of the Markelle saga and laid them out in no specific order, for a trip down memory lane:
Changing the shot
Almost immediately upon his training camp arrival, Markelle’s shot looked completely different than what we saw in college.
This was one of the first clips to result in a bit of confusion:
Interesting how dramatically different Markelle Fultz's FT stroke looks here compared to @ UW (65%). Has lowered release point considerably. pic.twitter.com/6REIFX0qtR
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) September 28, 2017
Said Markelle back on September 28th, during his rookie year:
“It was just something going on where I wanted to try something new. But my free throw is going to look the same as college. I’m just trying to look at different ways to see how the ball can go in the hoop.”
It seemed like nothing at the time, didn’t it?
Were Markelle’s issues physical or mental? The running theory was that he had a case of the yips, but that word was never used publicly by anyone until trainer Drew Hanlen talked about it on a podcast this past summer:
“With Markelle, obviously he has 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. So for me it was, hey listen, how can I get this kid that was No. 1 in last year’s draft back rolling and get him to the point where he was before, if not better?”
Markelle disputed that claim at media day:
Yeah, you know, I think it was a mis-term in words. But me and Drew have talked, and what happened last year was an injury. Let me get that straight. It was an injury that happened that didn’t allow me to go through a certain path that I needed to to shoot the ball. Just like any normal person, when you’re used to doing something the same way each and every day, and something happens, of course you’re going to start thinking about it. It’s just normal. So, of course I had that injury happen, and then people took certain things, of changing shots, and ran with it. But that didn’t affect me. That’s the reason I didn’t just come out last year and try to go against the media or whatever. I just was worried about getting healthy and getting back to what I do. That’s what I did this summer, so I’m happy.
In retrospect, that might have been the beginning of the end.
The deleted Hanlen tweet
Fultz struggled through the early part of this season, resulting in the following Twitter exchange between trainers Clint Parks and Hanlen:
“He’s still not healthy,” said Hanlen.
We were able to ask Markelle about that tweet on November 2nd of 2018, which resulted in this exchange:
Fultz: “I haven’t seen that tweet. I stay off social media during the season. I’ve heard about it but my mindset is the same – come to work every day, play as hard as I can, help my team get better.
Did you have a conversation with (Drew Hanlen), to ask what his intention was?
Fultz: “I’m not going to speak too much on it. Like I said, my mindset has just been to come to practice and be the best teammate and player I can be.”
Are you 100% healthy or close to it?
Fultz: “For sure. I mean, nobody is ever 100% healthy in this game. You play five games in seven days and you get bumps and bruises. That’s life in the NBA. It’s the stuff you signed up for when you get here. But I’m working every day to get better.”
That ended up being the last time we spoke with Markelle.
When Fultz returned to the Sixers last spring, he played pretty well in a home win against the Nuggets.
After the game, I asked him about his shoulder injury, to which he responded by staring straight forward and saying nothing at all:
He also responded to a follow-up from Sarah Todd with total silence. The post-game availability became national news and was all over ESPN the next day.
Shooting from his back
The video is from April 3rd, 2017, so it predates the NBA draft and summer league. Apparently it was just sitting there on Andrew Sharp’s Instagram before it found its way into the news cycle.
The common thought was that Fultz started tweaking his shot sometime after summer league in 2017, not before it, because the mechanics looked perfectly fine during his short time on the court out west. Keith Williams, Fultz’s trainer, says he never changed the shot at all. Bryan Colangelo said that he felt like the changes took place sometime in August.
If the Hanlen tweet was the beginning of the end, this brought us much closer to the end, the free throw heard around the world:
This is worse than we have ever seen Fultz's free throw form look. pic.twitter.com/FhCYpNpd5b
— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) November 13, 2018
Fultz said the ball slipped out of his hand.
I saw the free throw, for sure. I’ve been seeing him work this summer, and all of this season, and he has times where something like that happens. But following that, he shot it very well and it looked very fluid. He’s going to have some ups and downs. He’s going to have more ups than downs. You saw the talent level in flashes, how talented he is.
The NCAA probe
Back in February of last year, Markelle was named in the sweeping NCAA corruption case:
Wrote BWanks at the time:
The report focuses on the dealings of former NBA agent Andy Miller, his ex-associate Christian Dawkins, and the ASM Sports Agency. The documents reveal what could be a major headache for up to 20 NCAA programs and up to 25 current and former players, which allege that ASM worked with programs and players to get them to sign with the agency. Among the players reported to have taken money? That’s right—you guessed it. Markelle Fultz. The top pick of the 2017 NBA Draft reportedly received $10,000 from ASM, but didn’t go on to sign with the agency. Boss move.
It ended up being no much of a thing, not that I recall, but it was another one of those, “holy shit, what’s next?” kind of moments at the time.
Strange report from earlier this season.
A story in the Washington Post alleged that Markelle’s mother, Ebony, installed security cameras inside his house.
Wrote Candace Buckner:
Fultz is now a professional on a four-year contract worth $33 million, but close associates said Ebony still goes to great lengths to shield him. During Fultz’s first season in Philadelphia, Ebony had cameras installed inside his New Jersey home, according to several people familiar with the setup who described the indoor surveillance as unusual. The cameras have since been removed. Multiple people said Ebony has asked some who have dealt with Fultz to sign nondisclosure agreements for reasons that are unclear to them.
“There’s definitely crazy [expletive] going on with the mom and how involved she is and how overprotective she is,” said a person with a close connection to Fultz. “The best possible situation is if the mom just backs off for a period of time and gives him a chance to breathe.”
Scapular imbalance… or dyskinesis?
Markelle was originally diagnosed with something the Sixers referred to as “scapular muscle imbalance” last season.
Said Bryan Colangelo, on March 27th, 2018:
“It was diagnosed as a scapular imbalance by a well-known expert in Kentucky and the cause is unknown at this stage. We don’t know where it started, when it started, but it was sometime from the time we saw him in summer league – when everyone saw that he did not have a shoulder problem and there was no indication there was a problem with his shot – to something that very quickly rose to awareness in late September and early October as we started the season. Once it was determined that he really was not able to function, we dove deeper to determine whether or not there was something going on. Even though an MRI showed that there was no structural concerns, there was a scapular imbalance, as determined by the doctor in Kentucky. It literally was just a breakdown of muscle function. We don’t know enough about the injury. It’s very uncommon in basketball. It’s very complicated and complex, and that’s why there’s been so much unknown here.
But when Fultz did a TNT interview during a national broadcast, the injury was referred to as scapular dyskinesis:
A Liberty Ballers story looked into this weird disconnect in terminology.
Not having his back
Among the first (and few) to publicly suggest that Markelle Fultz was being let down by the people around him, Joel Embiid first dropped the hint in February of last season:
— NBA TV (@NBATV) February 13, 2018
“I feel like we’ve been really close since he got to Philly, and I feel like I’m the guy who can help him the most because I went through it. I missed two years, you know, going through all of those injuries, and that’s what he’s going through right now. All I’ve been trying to tell him is to take his time. Everybody’s going to criticize you, especially when you’re the number one pick. Everyone’s going to criticize you, call you a bust, I was called all of that during my first two years. But I don’t exactly know what the origin of the problems are. I’m still trying to figure that out. But I don’t feel like a lot of people around him have had his back. He’s only 19 years old and that can be hard. The people around you that are supposed to support you, that aren’t supporting you, it’s hard. I was in that situational especially after my first year when I needed a second surgery and I lost my brother. I just wanted to quit, wanted to get away and go home and literally leave everything behind but I’m glad I stuck with it and kept pushing and worked really hard. That’s a tough situation, but the main thing I always thing I tell him is just to stay patient and keep working hard.”
“I don’t feel like a lot of people around him have had his back.”
Fluid drained.. or injected?
Remember the agent, Raymond Brothers, telling ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Markelle had fluid drained from his shoulder to help alleviate the problem of raising his arms over his head?
Brothers had it backward, and revised the comment:
“He had a cortisone shot on Oct. 5, which means fluid was put into his shoulder — not taken out,” agent Raymond Brothers told ESPN on Tuesday night. “My intention earlier was to let people know that he’s been experiencing discomfort. We will continue to work with (Sixers general manager) Bryan Colangelo and the medical staff.”
Strange stuff all around, but it’s Orlando’s problem now.