In the 2017 NBA draft, Markelle Fultz was widely believed to be the best prospect available. He was drafted first overall by the Philadelphia 76ers and has been with the team ever since. Fultz’s transition to the NBA, however, has not been a great one.
During his first offseason, Fultz was dealing with a shoulder injury that may have caused problems with his shooting form. It is his second year in the League now, and he still hasn’t really recovered. His form has been joked about, but most people expected him to have fixed his problem by now. It’s almost as if he has forgotten how to shoot a basketball.
Fultz and those around him have been very private about the situation, so it’s hard to tell exactly what has been going wrong. These events have been unfortunate for everyone involved, but nobody seems truly blameless.
Last year, the 76ers organization gave Fultz just about every ounce of support he could have needed. Things actually seemed to be going well from their perspective. After not playing most of last season, he was finally starting some games and gaining confidence this year.
But things began to get unusual when Fultz’s personal trainer, Drew Hanlen, made a tweet stating that Fultz was “still not healthy.” This happened in early November, and the tweet was deleted soon after. This was an unprofessional move by Hanlen, and Fultz later contradicted him, stating that he was feeling pretty healthy.
This past summer, Hanlen had told the media that Fultz was facing psychological problems with his shooting form. Fultz denied this statement and emphasized the effects his shoulder injury had been having on him. However, experienced NBA insiders like Charles Barkley have suggested the problem may be mental as well.
On Nov. 12, sportswriter Alex Kennedy reported that Fultz and Hanlen were “no longer working together or on speaking terms.” He even said that problems arose approximately three weeks before his report. After Hanlen’s earlier Twitter slip-up, it’s easy to blame him for the problems, but Hanlen is quite a reputable trainer. He has worked with NBA stars like Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum as well as current college players Cam Reddish and R.J. Barrett. With a resume like that, it seems hard to imagine that he could have messed up so drastically with Fultz.
Since the incident, Fultz has been increasingly hurting his reputation, much like Kawhi Leonard did this past offseason. Like Leonard, Fultz doesn’t seem to have complete trust in his organization’s doctors, as he has sought an independent specialist for his shoulder injury. This surprised the 76ers organization, who had been under the impression that Fultz had been healthy since the summer.
Fultz also withdrew from the team and is not traveling with them until after his visit with his specialist. And now, the 76ers are reportedly looking to trade him away. Between the 76ers, Markelle Fultz and Drew Hanlen, it’s safe to say everyone holds some blame for the current situation.
The 76ers first messed up by deciding to start Fultz this season. J.J. Redick, who had taken a seat on the bench so Fultz could start, was one of Philadelphia’s best players last year, but Fultz was still chosen to start instead.
The primary reason this was problematic was because it added additional pressure that was completely unnecessary. If the team’s goal was to give Fultz an opportunity to grow his confidence, he could’ve done so in practice or while playing minutes off the bench. After reporters were coming into practice to film Fultz’s shooting form last year, the last thing he needed was more pressure.
This was also problematic because it hurt the team. His teammates seemed supportive, but it’s hard to imagine Fultz wasn’t feeling bad about playing worse than J.J. Reddick likely would have. The 76ers are currently among the top teams in the Eastern Conference, but perhaps they could be doing even better had Fultz been where he probably should have been on the bench.
The organization put the nail in the coffin when it traded for Jimmy Butler. Butler is an All-Star acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves who plays the same position as Fultz, shooting guard. It was clear that the idea of starting Fultz had now been abandoned, and it also signaled an abandonment of Fultz himself. The impression has been that the organization isn’t interested in waiting for him to figure out his shooting form and come back.
Nobody really knows what happened between Fultz and Hanlen. Perhaps Fultz is to blame because he refused to listen to Hanlen’s expert opinion. Perhaps Hanlen is to blame, not only because of his public comments, but also because he may have not been listening to his client who insisted his shoulder was still the problem.
Maybe both possibilities are true, maybe neither are true. That has been the nature of this issue: Nobody has been able to tell what is going on. In the end, Fultz has been a hard worker and people don’t want to see him become a complete bust. Likewise, seeing the 76ers finally rise from their former embarrassing state has been fun for basketball fans. These things just make the situation even sadder to see, and there’s a chance it could have been prevented. A fresh start for Fultz with a new team may be exactly what he needs right now.