Philadelphia 76ers rookie guard Markelle Fultz has been the centerpiece of a controversial narrative about when his shoulder injury occurred.
Fultz, 19, will be sidelined for the next three games (and potentially more) before he is re-evaluated. There is not any structural damage, according to reports. However, perspectives differ about why Fultz decided to change his shot to a significantly lower release point, farther away from his body.
According to one ESPN report, an NBA team noticed a slight change in his form during a predraft workout. Others, however, maintain he was healthy until he changed his shooting form.
Fultz explained on Sept. 28 that he was just trying to look at “different ways” to get the ball in the hoop. Brett Brown, the head coach of the 76ers, said he noticed the change during training camp (via Philly Voice):
“Markelle has made some personal adjustments to his shot since we last saw him in Vegas [for Summer League]. He’s been with his personal trainer over the month of August and since summer league ended, and he chose to look at some different things on his shot.”
Brown believed Fultz was simply trying to improve his game, though he was not happy with the decision. There was no public mention on the record of any shoulder injury before this date, though it’s not uncommon for them to not disclose medical information.
Fultz reportedly received a cortisone shot on Oct. 5, one day after the Sixers played the Grizzlies in the preseason. He missed the following preseason game on Oct. 6 due to apparent shoulder soreness.
The 19-year-old guard played again on Oct. 9 before he was shut down for the remainder of the preseason, though that may have also been due to any residual problems from his injury during the summer league.
He then returned to action during the regular season, albeit not as a starter, and even played six ineffective games before the team decided to give him recovery time.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the story is the question of what caused this problem.
Bryan Colangelo, the team general manager for Philadelphia, believes the experimentation (which was immediately derided) led to the injury.
However, Fultz’s longtime trainer and mentor Keith Williams said Fultz tweaked his shooting because of the pain, not vice versa (via USA TODAY Sports):
“The shot was never changed (before the shoulder pain). He’s a great shooting point guard. There haven’t been many point guards who shot the ball as well as him coming out of college, off the dribble and off the catch. I never changed the shot. Why would I?”
Williams makes a good point, considering Fultz was known as one of the sharpest shooters in the NCAA before he was selected at No. 1 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Fultz has not confirmed whether or not he was injured in August, which is when many believe the shot mechanics looked different. Earlier this month, he told The Ringer that he “can’t recall” when the injury happened but explained it was an on-and-off issue.
Colangelo says the organization did not find out about the injury until late-September or early-October. Williams, meanwhile, recently told The Washington Post that the shoulder began hurting in early September.
If that’s the case, it doesn’t line up with when Fultz had changed his shot. Plus, why would Fultz opt to change his shot rather than tell his team about the problem for approximately one month?
Derek Bodner speculates it may have been an overeagerness to get on a professional court (via The Athletic):
“A plausible explanation, or at least the most plausible explanation available, could be that Fultz worried that admitting he was in discomfort would have caused him to miss playing time. For a rookie anxious to make his NBA debut, that could lead to a lapse in judgment.”
Brown said on Oct. 10 that he thought Fultz was more injured than he was letting on, so it wouldn’t be a shock to learn he was hiding part of the issue.
Fultz, who hasn’t taken a long-range shot attempt yet in the regular season and is now sidelined with the injury, wasn’t attempting three-pointers even in early-October scrimmages.
After tests and exams and consultations, there’s no word on what’s actually wrong with his shoulder – or how and when the injury happened. We may never learn, so we will be entirely left with speculation in the process.