Markelle Fultz has had a strange start to his NBA career. During his time in college at Washington, Fultz showed the ability to make plays like this:
He hit shots like this:
And put on performances like this:
Through three games, Fultz hasn’t been capable of doing any of the things shown above. It’s early, but the numbers are alarming. The first-year guard has taken just six shots outside of the paint through three games -- making just one of them. In fact, Fultz hasn’t attempted a single shot outside of 14-feet. A meager stat line of 7.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG, and 1.3 APG on 34.8-percent shooting has Philly fans everywhere scratching their heads...and understandably so. This is all coming after Fultz had one of the best years for a college freshman in recent memory (23.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 5.9 APG, 47.6 field-goal percentage, 41.3 three-point percentage).
Fultz’s complete aversion to shooting has been the most puzzling aspect. It started in the preseason, when his wonky free throw form started picking up traction around social media. Fultz promised he’d go back to his original routine by the start of the regular season, but he’s gone 6-for-12 (with some awful misses) to start the year from the charity stripe. That was to be expected to a certain extent. Fultz wasn’t a great foul shooter in his single season at Washington (64.9-percent on 6.7 attempts per game). The outside shooting is troublesome though. In college, he showcased both a smooth stroke, and the propensity for taking (and making) difficult shots with regularity. In the NBA, we're seeing a whole lot of this:
The fact that Fultz didn't even consider shooting this would have boggled my mind if you showed it to me 6 months ago. pic.twitter.com/Y3JQ12Zn5T
— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) October 21, 2017
This play most sums up the first week of Fultz’s career. He doesn’t even look at the basket. Instead, the point guard takes a couple of nonthreatening dribbles “towards” the basket, and launches a 10-foot lob pass to a teammate with just enough air under it to allow the defender to recover. The more I watch that play, the more I can’t believe that’s the same guy that dropped 35 points on 14 shots against Cal in his second collegiate game.
Enhancing the worry over Fultz’s shooting woes has been the play of other rookies across the league. In his first week as a professional, Lonzo Ball was an assist shy of becoming the youngest player to ever record a triple-double. Jayson Tatum (the guy Boston would have selected first had they not traded out of the spot), was thrust into a starting role. Thus far, he's averaging 12.3 PPG and 9.0 RPG. Fellow 76er teammate Ben Simmons has hit the ground running after missing the entire 2016 season -- putting up Rookie of the Year-worthy numbers with 15.7 PPG, 10.3 RPG, and 6.0 APG. You know it’s been bad for Fultz when a second-round pick (Dillon Brooks) and a 2012 undrafted free agent (Mike James) are outscoring the No. 1 overall pick through three games.
An offseason shoulder injury has been blamed for Fultz’s early effort, but even that is a stretch. With how cautious the Philly front office has been with both Simmons and Joel Embiid’s injury history, it’s less plausible that the 76ers would trot out a future cornerstone player while he’s still hurting.
Fultz’s shooting will be something to monitor as the season wears on. An offensive player of his caliber should break out of this slump in due time, but it certainly makes for a compelling storyline as other rookies have flourished early on in the season.