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Markelle Fultz Needs to Start Shooting

Fire away, and if you miss, you miss.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

We’re three games into Markelle Fultz’s rookie year, and discussing his shooting already feels like beating a dead horse. He’s just not shooting. The shots he takes he’s not making. We’re emotionally scarred from his free throws. All we have is questions, and those questions just spawn more questions.

The free-throw form is reportedly the product of a sore shoulder, and it could be much worse. Take Chuck Hayes’ shot for example, which Allen Iverson called a “travel”:

But Fultz’s jumper (when he does take it) doesn’t look terrible even when he misses. His hesitance to actually take the shots is the bigger problem.

In his sole season at Washington - admittedly with a much higher usage rate as the offense’s only focal point - Fultz attempted a three-pointer every 7.08 minutes on the floor. In 59 minutes as a pro, Fultz has yet to attempt a shot from further than 14 feet. His 22/7/4/1/1 line would be pretty solid for a game, but it’s a three-game total. Here is the problem in a nutshell from the Boston game:

Fultz shot over 41% from three in college on five attempts a game. You’d think to some extent muscle memory would take over after taking thousands and thousands of shots in your life, and Fultz would come in hitting shots at a similar (adjusting for the farther three-point line) clip. We won’t know until he actually attempts the shots, but it seems unlikely.

He came into the NBA as a shooter. His ball-handling, playmaking, and athleticism were made all the more effective because defenses knew he was a threat to rise up and shoot at any time. That couldn’t be further from the case now.

Something is up. Whether it’s a shoulder, the yips, rookie nerves, or some combination of those three, we’re seeing it. It’s tempting to go full hot take with it. To say Fultz was the wrong pick, or that trading up to get him was a bad decision. But just months ago this is that same man:

It’s easy to panic. It’s easy to be reactionary. It’s harder to be patient. But we’re experts in patience, aren’t we? Didn’t we slog through the muck and the mire to get to this point, the point where we can finally begin to hope? When you step back and look at the scope of all this rebuilding, this will hopefully barely be a blip. It’s depressing to admit, but the number one pick we traded up for all of a sudden refusing to do the thing that made him the number one pick is about the third biggest long-term concern with this team (behind Embiid’s durability and the general air of nothing good ever happening for us). Maybe Markelle will start to shoot and the problem will be that he can’t make the shots he’s taking. I’d prefer that. That would be fitting. First, he has to start taking them.

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