PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (AP) - Markelle Fultz has a sore right shoulder and the 76ers benched him for three games.
The injury and his absence — for now, at least — are about the only things certain for the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft.
Fultz has made the wrong kind of headlines in his brief tenure for shooting mechanics that resemble something akin to a toddler learning to shoot a basketball. Take a quick scan of YouTube videos, and highlights of the 6-foot-4 guard out of Washington can be found under the titles “Markelle Fultz Gruesome Free Throws ,” ″This Is Why Markelle Fultz’s Free Throws Look Like Trash” and “Are the 76ers Cursed?”
Fultz, whose shooting form has been widely mocked all season, was finally shut down by the Sixers on Wednesday and he will be evaluated again next week.
But no one in the organization can pinpoint when Fultz’s form went awry, though he’s had soreness since the summer. Fultz’s agent caused a brief panic this week when he said Fultz had fluid drained from his shoulder. The truth was, Fultz simply had a cortisone injection this month to treat the shoulder — a procedure the Sixers curiously did not reveal until the facts became confounding.
As for the ugly shot, did Fultz change his mechanics because his shoulder hurt or does his shoulder hurt because he changed his mechanics? Even that isn’t really clear, though the latter seems more likely.
“I don’t dismiss that it could have been a possibility,” Brown said.
Fultz, though, now has a spot on the Injured 76ers Rookies list that boasts such recent prospects as Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. That trio of first-round picks all missed their rookie seasons (Embiid missed his first two) and Fultz for now is only scheduled to miss Wednesday’s game against the Houston Rockets and road games Saturday at Dallas and Monday at Houston.
“I think that we all understand there were some things going on,” coach Brett Brown said. “I feel like it’s a time where we can take a deep breath and help move him forward in a cleaner way.”
Fultz is shooting 33 percent, 50 percent from the free-throw line and has not attempted a 3-point shot all season, all as a reserve.
“I watched hundreds and hundreds of his shots,” Brown said. “I get so excited because you see so clearly why he was the first player chosen. The kid is a baller. He can really play.”
The 76ers traded the No. 3 overall pick and a future first-round pick to the Boston Celtics for the No. 1 pick with the intention of drafting Fultz. Team president Bryan Colangelo said there had been “no medical reason” not to play Fultz this season and the shoulder had no structural damage.
“At some point, you’ve got to know your body can no longer go through certain things,” Embiid said.
Colangelo and the Sixers were caught on their heels for the second time this season over the severity of their stars’ injuries. The Sixers said in January that Embiid was out with swelling and a bone bruise in his left knee until news broke it was actually a torn meniscus. It’s difficult to imagine the Sixers would have said Fultz was treated with a shot had it not been for the agent’s erroneous statement to ESPN.
“I think we are unfairly scrutinized, sometimes,” Brown said. “I understand we have been put in funny situations.”
The Sixers have made a heavy investment the last few years in their medical department, building a new training complex that offers round-the-clock care. The team sent out a press release when it hired its first-ever “Vice President of Athlete Care.”
But no amount of sports science has kept Philadelphia’s cornerstones healthy.
The fact that Fultz even played has gone against one of the core principles of “The Process,” which is patience. The Sixers did not hesitate to shut down Noel, Embiid and Simmons and never wavered in the decision not to play them, even at times when they were dunking and shooting 3s in warmups.
Brown was stymied at times in a pregame scrum that featured nearly three dozen members of the media and felt more like a “60 Minutes” interrogation than a loose Q&A.
How could you tell the injury affected Fultz?
“I don’t want to comment on that.”
When you did you become aware Fultz was injured?
“I don’t know.”
Did you know Fultz had a cortisone shot?
“I don’t even remember.”
The Sixers also don’t know if Fultz will stick with his new shooting motion or go back to the one he used at Washington once he’s medically cleared.
“I can’t wait to play with him because I think me and him on the pick-and-roll are going to be unstoppable,” Embiid said.