Don’t Fall For the Markelle Fultz Mirage

Photo credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
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Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Markelle Fultz is working on his jump shot this offseason and it is wet.

WATCH OUT NBA; this kid finally gets it and he’s ready to fulfill the potential that launched him to the top of the draft boards in 2017.

In several (now deleted) videos foisted upon social media yesterday, Fultz is shown effortlessly launching a gorgeous three point shot, several jump shots, and displaying the ball handling abilities that made scouts drool while watching him at Washington.

Did the 76ers make a huge mistake in trading him last season? Is this franchise so cursed that the talented-but-fragile shooting guard with mincemeat for a brain and shredded crab meat for a shoulder is actually poised to not only get back on the court, but actually stay on it and make a positive impact?

Listen to me Philadelphia and listen to me good. It’s all a mirage. You have nothing to worry about.

How many times are we going to fall for this? I found myself watching the videos yesterday as a rising pang of anxiety crept up my spine and sourly lodged itself into the base of my brain. He looked competent, he looked good, and his shot actually looked, well, better than ever.

Until I remembered I did the exact same thing in the last offseason when he was under the tutelage of famed shooting coach Drew Hanlen, except back then the anxiety and dread I felt this morning was replaced with joy and jubilation. That certainly didn’t last.

It’s a mirage, Philadelphia. It’s not real. Last year as a fan base we were dying of thirst, wandering through the Sahara Desert in tattered clothing, and the carefully edited and produced videos of Fultz sinking shot after shot was our saving oasis. As we scrambled to our salvation and the cool water was just inches from our grasp, it all disappeared and we were left with nothing but swollen tongues, parched lips, and this:

New season, new hype video, and the same results by November.

If you didn’t see the videos released yesterday morning (and mysteriously scrubbed from social media by noon), his shooting stroke is basically the same as it was during the early portion of last season. Here it is:

Now compare it to an early preseason game from last October:

Yeah, looks similar to me. And recall, dear reader, that the start of 2018 was by far the highlight of Fultz’s career with the 76ers when we trumpeted every 10 point effort on 30% shooting as the second coming of Kobe Bryant. We were so desperate to prove he was worth the high pick, everything the 76ers gave up for him, that we ignored the obviously still wonky and odd looking jump shot.

The best analogy I can give for his jump shot is how you feel watching a movie where an actor is digitally inserted after their death or is digitally altered to look younger or older. Think of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” where actor Peter Cushing’s character Governor Tarkin was digitally inserted into the movie 26 years after his death and a young Princess Leia made a cameo in the conclusion.

Both CGI characters look great at first, a true feat of technology, but the more you looked at them on screen, the more you really watched them on the big screen in front of you, the more OFF and WEIRD they seemed. Their imperfections and lifelessness were suddenly all you could notice. The closer you looked, the more abnormal the creations seemed. Suddenly you weren’t too thrilled to be seeing them at all.

It’s the same as Fultz’s “new and improved” jump shot. It looks better than it did in 2017, it looks smoother, but the more you look at it the more you notice that it just looks OFF. It’s wonky. You try to convince yourself that it’s a lifelike copy of a good jump shot, but the more you see it the more you know it’s not. It’s abnormal and a poor imitation of an effortless shot.

It still looks like it could all come tumbling down at any moment.

The greatest value Fultz will have given the 76ers was his merciful trade off the team last year. We don’t have to be distracted by these videos, Brett Brown doesn’t have to field question after question on his progress, and his teammates don’t have to spout canned platitudes about his work effort and how good of a fit he is on the court when anyone with two eyes can see he isn’t.

He’s Orlando’s problem now. Let them have the mirage.

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