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Why Markelle Fultz Changed His Free Throw Motion

The Sixers rookie’s form is undeniably off. Should Process trusters be concerned about his health?

Markelle Fultz Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Markelle Fultz is shooting free throws like he’s imitating Shaquille O’Neal, and Shaq is not the player anyone should be taking pointers from when it comes to shooting:

GIF of Markelle Fultz shooting a free throw in an NBA preseason game

Fultz was an average free throw shooter in summer league, college, and high school, but his form was fine. It looked like this:

GIF of Markelle Fultz shooting a free throw in summer league

So why make the change?

NBA Preview 2017

Fultz has been dealing with soreness in his right shoulder, which caused him to miss Friday’s preseason game, but he “can’t recall” when he first felt the pain. After Monday’s game against the Celtics, he said the shoulder has been hurting “on and off.” “I talk to trainers when it bothers me, and they get right to it and start working on it,” Fultz said. “When it’s not, I’m happy. Either way, I’m happy and I just go out and play.”

After Fultz left the locker room, I asked him if the shoulder issue motivated him to revise his free throw mechanics, to minimize the pain he feels when he raises his arm. Fultz said, “Yeah, for the most part. I’m just trying other things to make free throws. At the end of the day, that’s not an excuse for me. I’m just out there hooping.”

Fultz’s shoulder injury is apparent in his new form. Watch again in slow motion. He brings the ball up above his shoulders and uses his wrist to shoot, rather than bringing the ball up and generating momentum from his legs, to his arms and fingertips.

GIF of Markelle Fultz shooting a free throw during an NBA preseason game

The Sixers front office is typically as transparent as a politician, but head coach Brett Brown is straightforward. At the start of Sixers training camp, when Fultz first showed off some wack shooting mechanics, he said he was just messing around, but Brown openly admitted he’d like to see Fultz get “back on track” by reverting to his old shooting form. Now, Brown has acknowledged the injury, too. “I think [his shoulder] is affecting him more than he lets on. You can tell with his free throw, trying to get that ball up. It’s far out from his body. He’s been working on trying to get that thing rehabilitated,” Brown said. “And the lack of the quantity of his 3-point shooting may be a sign that it’s hurting a little more than he’s letting on.”

Brown’s openness is refreshing considering the organization’s previous response to high-profile injuries. After Ben Simmons broke his foot, the team never set a timeline for his return. The Sixers also didn’t disclose a slight meniscus tear found in Joel Embiid’s left knee last season. Embiid wasn’t pleased. ”I was told that I was going to kind of miss two or three weeks,” Embiid said. “So I wasn’t happy with the way it was handled.”

Now the Sixers have another injury to cope with, there’s a lack of public clarity on what the precise issue is and when it occurred. Since Fultz is playing preseason games, the injury likely is not too serious. He said after the game that he and the medical staff are “making great movements to get it better,” and he’s “gonna play through stuff.”

But there’s an it. There’s stuff. We’ve seen this song and dance before. Injuries, followed by obfuscating comments, are as much a fabric of Philadelphia as Rocky and the Philly cheesesteak. While Simmons shoots with the wrong hand, and Fultz shoots like someone who just picked up a ball for the first time, Sixers fans may be doubting the Process.