“Trust the Process! Trust the Process!…” These words echo throughout the Wells Fargo Center every Sixers game. On the court, a young, energized, and charismatic team has rejuvenated the franchise. After years of disappointment and flat-out horrendous play, the team’s sacrifices have seem to have payed off. Currently, the 76ers occupy the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and would hold a playoff spot if the season were to end today. This is a big step up from their 10-72 season just two years prior. Over the offseason, Philadelphia brought in a new front office, acquired Amir Johnson and JJ Redick from free agency, and saw the debut of phenom rookie point guard, Ben Simmons. But one piece of the puzzle has been missing from The Process this season: Markelle Fultz.
Fultz was drafted by the Sixers as the #1 pick in the 2017 Draft. Coming off of a solid freshman season at the University of Washington (where he averaged 23.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 5.9 APG), he looked like a solid fit in Brett Brown’s game-plan. The 19 year old guard could drive, pass, and shoot off the dribble very well. Philly fans expected him to start for the team in order to provide a boost in scoring. He participated in 3 Summer League games, scoring just under 50 points and shooting just over 40% from the field, marking similar statistics to his during college. He ended his stint early though, as he was plagued by an ankle sprain during his third exhibition. While it was just a minor injury, the Sixers limited him from playing any more Summer League games to err on the side of caution.
Once the regular season rolled around in mid-October, Fultz’s ankle seemed healthy and the City of Brotherly Love was filled with optimism. Yet, from the start, Fultz seemed a bit off. When fans saw him take awkward, inaccurate shots within the first 4 games, concerns arose. These concerns turned out to be warranted, as the Sixers announced on October 29th that Fultz would be, “out indefinitely with soreness and scapular muscle imbalance in his right shoulder.” This experience was nothing new to fans of the Sixers, who have seen the likes of Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Ben Simmons suffer injuries soon after being drafted. To fans, this announcement seemed like just another flaw in The Process. News came out that the injury was so severe that he could not even lift his arm without excruciating pain. Markelle would have minor procedures done in order to drain fluid. The city of Philadelphia had to prepare itself for another season of underachievement.
Despite the loss of Fultz, the Sixers were actually looking like a somewhat cohesive team when they announced on November 19th that the condition of Markelle’s shoulder had shown improvement. He was purportedly on the road to a full return, but months later, fans have yet to see him lace up for a game.
The mystery surrounding Markelle’s injury deepened even further this week, as videos of him in a shoot-around surfaced on Twitter. For fans, there was hope in seeing him work on his game, but a cloud of doubt shrouds his potential. In the videos, he can be seen shooting from outside the 3-point line in the Sixers’ practice complex. He seems to be sporting an even more awkward and off-balance shot than before his rehabilitation. According to numerous orthopedic doctors and clinics, the oddity that is Markelle Fultz’s shooting form is likely from muscle memory. When he was resting and rehabbing, Fultz was careful not to overextend his shoulder, in order to avoid pain. The habit of keeping his shoulder down has carried over to his shooting form, where he now struggles to regain his old muscle memory. The good news for fans is that muscle memory is easy to regain with repetitions, but for now, the appearance of his play makes them uneasy about his future. Only time and patience will tell if The Process truly is a success.