Editor’s note: This post was updated after publication to reflect new comments made by Raymond Brothers, Markelle Fultz’s agent, to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The story of Markelle Fultz’s nagging right shoulder took a bizarre (yet encouraging?) turn Tuesday night. Fultz’s agent, Raymond Brothers, had told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski earlier in the day that the Sixers rookie had fluid drained from his right shoulder (i.e., the same side of his body as his shooting arm) before the season began. Hours later, Brothers, again via Wojnarowski, told a completely different story: Fultz had a cortisone shot injected into his shoulder, not fluid drained from it.
As you might have guessed, these are two completely different things. In fact, a cortisone shot is a pretty common way to relieve pain throughout sports. In the span of a few hours, the severity of Fultz’s injury (if we can even call it that?) went from, “He literally cannot raise up his arms to shoot the basketball,” to, “He's been experiencing discomfort.”
The shoulder of the no. 1 overall pick has been a major topic in the NBA for two weeks. On October 10, Fultz told The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor that his shoulder soreness was severe enough to make him change his shooting motion.
Markelle Fultz’s free-throw struggles continue... pic.twitter.com/S1D5N307Uk— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) October 22, 2017
As a result, watching Fultz has been an emotionally taxing process. It has been evident that something—whether it be the yips or an injury—was wrong with him. Yet Fultz kept playing, even as he looked lackadaisical and out of it. Every trip to the foul line became cringe-worthy, especially for long-suffering Sixers fans.
Does anyone have any bleach? I’m thirsty for bleach pic.twitter.com/Hkc8J9Jbr0— John Gonzalez (@_JohnGonz) October 22, 2017
Fultz’s free throw form appeared just fine at last year’s U18 FIBA Americas tournament. And at Washington last season, the point guard was a consistent enough 3-point shooter (41.3 percent on five attempts per game) and was aggressive attacking the basket, though his subpar free throw percentage (64.9) was a bit of a concern. Even at summer league this past July, he was doing things like this:
Fultz creates the requisite space with the step back and hits the three. Wet. pic.twitter.com/Eky2sx4dUq— Jake Hyman (@RealJakeHyman) July 6, 2017
But so far in the NBA, aside from his free throw woes (6-of-12), Fultz has been reluctant to drive and has yet to attempt a 3-point shot. Tuesday’s report provides at least some insight into a plausible explanation for Fultz’s play so far. The Sixers organization has yet to comment on the matter, though Brothers did tell ESPN that, “We will continue to work with (Sixers general manager) Bryan Colangelo and the medical staff."
Even as the Sixers bask in the flashes of greatness from (a healthy!) Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons finally playing together, they can’t escape the dark cloud that has seemingly hung over every rookie they have drafted the past four years. This one, though, may be the strangest yet.