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Let’s Talk About Markelle Fultz’s Shooting Form

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NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

It wouldn’t be pre-season without an alarmed overreaction to a mundane development in SixersWorld. This year, the Emergency du Jour (d’année?) is Markelle Fultz re-working his shot. After a summer away from the Sixers’ staff, videos emerged during training camp of a bizarre tweak in his free throw form, which had morphed his previously smooth shooting motion into a grotesque push shot, that looked hideous and augured potentially awful results if it were turned into a feature of his live-action technique.

After reporters asked Brett Brown whether he was comfortable with the modification, he poured kerosene onto the discussion and dropped a lit match on top, saying, “No, and so we’re gonna get back on track. His heart is in the right place. All by himself, he pivoted out over the summer and tried to make it better and tweak it.”

This set off alarm bells for many. Why would Fultz change his shot without consulting the Sixers’ staff of specialists? If Brett’s unhappy, does that mean it’s a big problem? Or are those with concerns (some among this commentariat may even call them grave), overreacting to a non-story that will be forgotten about it in a few months?

Let’s take a step back and look at a couple of important contributing factors.

A change in jump shooting technique is undoubtedly not a trivial factor for most players, and especially so for Fultz, specifically. Fultz’s value at Washington was gleaned in large part because of his efficiency and prolificness converting shots off the bounce, from the midrange or from deep. It was one of the largest factors in many scouts’ pre-draft evaluations of him, and undoubtedly played a role in the Sixers’ willingness to move a high-leverage future pick and the 3rd overall pick in this draft for him.

If a change in motion has upset Fultz’s ability to maintain his effectiveness at shooting off the dribble from deep or the midrange, that is certainly perturbing. In that sense, this not nothing. It matters.

Still, Fultz himself downplayed the significance of the shooting change, indicating that he would return to his old form by the time the season rolls around.

It’s important to point out, too, that the large differentiation has been in Fultz’s free throw shooting, not his jump shooting. The horribly contrived, lowered form on display in Mike Schmitz’s video has not been on display during active game play. So in effect, we’re conflating a single, eccentric development with an entirely separate issue. Yes, the lower release point necessitated by Fultz’s new push shot would be much less effective in game action that Fultz’s old release. But he hasn’t used it.

Yes, this is slightly different from Fultz’s Washington form—there’s a longer pause at the top of his jump preceding the release—but it bears little to no resemblance to Fultz’s foul shooting modification. In fact, he appears to be attempting to accomplish the opposite feat of raising his release beyond where it already was, whereas he clearly lowered it to shoot free throws.

So, in essence, there were two separate shooting adjustments, neither of which were sanctioned by the team.

How much does this matter? Brett tried to downplay its significance in the media yesterday, saying that he was glad Fultz was driven to improve, and that he has been successful in several areas.

And Brett is probably right to downplay the issue too. Changing your shot is difficult, but a large part of that is because of the habit and comfort inherent in someone’s pre-existing shooting motion. Reverting to an already familiar shooting motion is a simpler adjustment than re-working a shot from the ground up.

Fultz’s youth also helps in that regard. He’s a more malleable lump of clay, at only 19 years old, than many of his counterparts dealing with shooting issues. The Sixers have an experienced staff who should be able to coax the correct form out of a player who has demonstrated a prodigious, feather touch from most distances, and who has been an outstanding scorer at multiple levels of advanced basketball.

So, in my mind, this story matters, but also doesn’t. It matters in that it may be the pre-cursor to a prolonged saga about shooting woes for a player for whom they looked like a distinct strength. But the more likely outcome is a simple reversion to an existing, effective shooting stroke, and a community that forgets about this incident in a few months.

Given that, patience and a steadied mindset are the prescriptions of the hour. This will probably become a non-story soon, and Fultz is likely to enjoy an exciting career. He’s surrounded by an able staff of professionals who understand the problem, and have already begun tackling it. We’ll all be fine.