Over the course of the last few years, the Philadelphia 76ers haven’t exactly been transparent and forthcoming about the health status of their top draft picks.
Whether it be Joel Embiid’s foot, Jahlil Okafor’s knee, Ben Simmons’ foot, or Embiid’s knee (there’s a trend here) the Sixers have kept most people in the dark about their young players until the eleventh hour.
Go ahead and add Markelle Fultz’s shoulder to that list.
After displaying what appeared to be an overhauled shooting motion during training camp that eventually spilled over into the preseason and regular season, there has finally been an admittance from all parties that something is up with the No. 1 overall pick’s right shoulder. Although, not by any proactively made statements from Philadelphia’s side.
On Tuesday evening, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Fultz’s agent, Raymond Brothers, said the rookie point guard had fluid drained from his shoulder. He went on to emphasize that Fultz “literally cannot raise up his arms to shoot the basketball.” Following a few hours, and public frenzy regarding the health of Fultz and the Sixers’ handling of it, Brothers revised his statement to Wojnarowski.
“He had a cortisone shot on Oct. 5, which means fluid was put into his shoulder — not taken out,” Brothers said. “My intention earlier was to let people know that he’s been experiencing discomfort. We will continue to work with (Sixers general manager) Bryan Colangelo and the medical staff.”
A cortisone shot and draining fluid cannot be more different in terms of medical attention. The core act of each explanation is literally the exact opposite of the other. Despite the confusion, Philadelphia would go on to confirm that Fultz did, in fact, receive a cortisone treatment. Ironically enough though, when asked if he was informed that Fultz received the shot, head coach Brett Brown said, “I don’t even remember.”
In an attempt to try and regain control of the narrative the Sixers had completely lost in the first place, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo addressed the media Wednesday morning after the team’s shootaround.
“I can safely say through our own medical determination with multiple second opinions we feel, again, he was medically cleared to play,” Colangelo said. “Dealing with ongoing discomfort, it was his choice to continue playing through the pain.”
What is continuously confusing about this situation is that no party seems to be in sync with the other. Through Colangelo’s near 20 minute stint with the media, he preached multiple times how everyone was on the same page. Except it doesn’t seem that way at all.
Since training camp began, Brown has been steadfast in his assertion that Fultz, in the goodness of his heart and wanting to improve, tweaked his shooting form over the summer. This is a shooting form that led Fultz to hit over 40 percent of his three-point shots during his freshman season at Washington, and ultimately the form that got him drafted first overall.
Colangelo even suggests that Fultz’s shot tweaking could be the root of his shoulder pain altogether.
“We spent some time with him throughout the summer, but sometime during the month of August, I think, he might have worked on his shot a little bit, could even be the cause of the irritation and inflammation in the shoulder,” Colangelo said on Wednesday. “New mechanics, new shooting mechanics, sometimes puts your shoulder in a different position. Whatever the case, whichever happened first, he’s dealing with soreness and nothing more.”
Fultz’s trainer and longtime mentor, Keith Williams, disagrees with the both of them.
“The shot was never changed (before the shoulder pain),” Williams told USA TODAY. “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 brings up a great point in the midst of all of this. The Sixers needed a guard in the mold of Fultz to pair with Simmons and Embiid in the worst way. That’s why they traded with the Boston Celtics to move up from the third pick to the first. Taking away, or altering, what Fultz did best completely changes his value on the court for Philadelphia.
Amid all of this shoulder confusion and a completely different Fultz through the first week of the NBA season, the Sixers experienced a microcosm of exactly what they drafted the sweet-shooting guard for Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets.
With an eight-point lead and only 1:47 left on the clock, the Sixers’ offense sputtered. Simmons turned the ball over and refused to shoot open looks. J.J. Redick missed two three-pointers. Jerryd Bayless had a shot blocked. The team committed a shot clock violation. Embiid failed to get a shot attempt.
All the while, Houston chipped away at the lead up until a culminating sequence that saw Eric Gordon hit a game-winning corner three-pointer, allowing the Rockets to steal a win from a young team that controlled the game for most of the night.
Right there is what Fultz was drafted for.
Philadelphia made a move to acquire a guard that was advanced in his ability to create his own shot, to score from all levels of the court. More importantly, to hit the high degree of difficulty shots that need to be hit in crunch time moments.
Instead, he was on the sidelines in street clothes for the game and at least the next two games that follow, with an obscure shoulder injury that nobody can seem to pinpoint the origin of.
Getting Fultz’s shoulder and shooting form back to normal needs to be priority number one for the Philadelphia 76ers. The effects of another mishandled Sixers injury saga are being felt as quickly as ever in a season that fans are hoping won’t end up right back in the lottery again.
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