TORONTO – The 76ers might have a big decision to make about Markelle Fultz’s sore right shoulder.
Right now, the injury is taking on a life of its own. One that has a portion of Sixers fans panicking and second-guessing the team’s decision to trade up two spots to select him first overall in June’s NBA draft.
The Sixers may decide to continue playing Fultz if they feel he’s helping the team and the shoulder doesn’t get worse. Or they could decide to sit him after accepting the fact that the 19-year-old is hindered by the injury and will struggle until the shoulder gets better.
As of this weekend, there hasn’t been any consideration given to sitting Fultz.
“It’s not to the point where it’s affecting other parts of his game,” coach Brett Brown said.
Brown pointed out that Fultz got where he wanted to go in Wednesday’s 120-115 season-opening loss to the Wizards in Washington. Fultz finished with 10 points, making 5 of 9 shots in a reserve role.
However, he made just 2 of 9 shots en route to just six points in Friday’s 102-92 setback to the Boston Celtics in the Sixers’ home opener.
The Upper Marlboro, Md. native didn’t attempt an outside shot heading into Saturday’s game against the Raptors in Toronto. That’s noteworthy because he was a 41.3 percent three-point shooter during his lone season at the University of Washington.
Of his 439 shot attempts in college, 126 (28.7 percent) of them were three-pointers. So attempting them has been a part of his versatile game.
However, he hasn’t attempted any three-pointers in his combined previous three games — one preseason and two regular-season — heading into Saturday night’s game.
Fultz tried to downplay his lack of three-point attempts earlier this month.
“If I’m open from three, I’m going to shoot it,” Fultz said on Oct. 9. “If I got the mid-range, I’m going to pull it. So whatever play is right for me, I’m going to go do it.”
However, he’s been passing up open looks in the perimeter and basically shooting everything from inside the paint.
The problem is he’s been frequently having a tough time raising his arm, which is easy to notice when he was shooting three-pointers and foul shots.
While it’s easy to avoid shooting threes, Fultz can’t get someone to shoot free throws for him. So until recently, a lot of the attention has been focused around his awkward shooting mechanics at the foul line,
The release point of Fultz’s shot was above his head at Washington and during the Utah Jazz Summer League in July. Now, it appears he’s pushing the ball more from in front of his body.
Fultz made both of his foul shots against the Celtics after missing his two attempts versus the Wizards.
“It’s not an excuse for me,” Fultz said of the new release. “I just go out there and do what I got to do.”
But it’s obvious the shoulder injury is preventing from being the versatile offensive player we saw during the summer league.
Fultz has also been hampered with right knee soreness, which contributed to his missing time in the preseason.
The time away led to the Sixers beginning the season without him in the starting lineup. So instead of being a focal point, he’s basically providing the intangibles as a role player. This is not what he, the Sixers, or the team’s fan base expected from someone the Sixers traded up two spots to select at No. 1.
In the trade, the Sixers also sent the Boston Celtics the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2018 pick if it falls to No. 2 to 5 in the draft lottery. And if the pick doesn’t convey to Boston, the Sixers will send a 2019 first-round pick to the Celtics.
That’s why the shoulder is a cause for concern for Sixers fans. That’s also why the Sixers should consider shutting him down if he doesn’t help the team win and/or if the injury has a chance of getting worse by playing.
It’s easy to see why a franchise snake-bitten with injuries to first-round picks wouldn’t want another one on the shelf.
However, they gave up a lot for this one. If Fultz doesn’t improve, his long-term health is more important than being a role player who shies away from attempting three-pointers.