Editor’s Note: The following roundtable produced many questions to be answered by the Liberty Ballers staff. Given the multitude of questions surrounding the situation, the roundtable has been split into two parts. This is part one.
Randy Cohen (AKA Blindloyalty76): The most important question facing the Sixers in the coming weeks is whether to play prodigal guard Markelle Fultz. I wanted to find out what the LB staff thought about the subject, and I figured that if I was going to ask them all to email their thoughts, we might as well share it with everyone. I frequently have strong opinions on basketball subjects but this topic is an exception — being about 95% blind, I can’t see the videos of Markelle working out, and thus am not well-situated to judge his fitness for NBA action. Thus I thought I’d start the ball rolling with a few points for consideration, and then hear what the crew has to say about this crucial question.
RC: How does Markelle’s jumper look?
Tyler Monahan: For what has been seen in short Twitter videos, Markelle Fultz jumper is coming along nicely. I don’t know if it is back to 100% what it was in college, but Fultz seems to be getting over whatever has physically/mentally plagued him.
Roy Burton: It looks... fine? From what I can tell, I wouldn’t have any reservations about putting him out there in an actual game.
Andy Driscoll: Like an actual NBA guard’s jumper. I’ve spent an absurdly unhealthy amount of time scouring twitter for footage of Markelle shooting jumpers (I admittedly twitter search his name 3 times minimum per day hoping for new info) and I can confidently say I’ve watched every clip from the last 6 months a strong minimum of 5 times each. It’s hard to overstate just how broken this shot was as recently as a month and a half ago, but it looks like that might be behind us.
Eric Sidewater: Slightly worse than his college form. With the form I’ve seen, I would project his 3P% around 26-30% and somewhere between 62-68% from the line. I replayed clips of his most recent shots a few hundred times really trying to dissect the mechanics. Main Issues: poor guide hand placement, mistimes the synchronization between release and jump, lack of full extension of shooting arm, distinct hitch in free-throw form (tilts head back on release). Okay, so I listed quite a few issues -- does that mean Fultz is doomed? No! He can fix these issues relatively easily. Also, there are several players who share some of these deficiencies who can compensate with tremendous hand-eye coordination. A shoulder injury has it’s imprint all over this as well. You may be asking, “Why does his free-throw form look so much worse than his turnaround jumpers?” From what I’ve watched, when he shoots these turnaround jumpers, he tends to jump into a fadeaway, which allows his entire body to tilt back, thus taking a lot of pressure of the top of shoulders. Try it right now! Bend your arm like you’re going to shoot a basketball and hold it there, tension starts to build in the top of your shoulder — now tilt your shoulder and head backwards, the tension disappears! Various scapula issues are consistent with this theory as well, so I think it’s better than pure conjecture.
Adio Royster: Much improved. You can go back and view grainy Twitter videos if you like, but I choose to “Total Recall” that from my brain if it’s all the same to you guys. His mid-range jump shots have improved. There’s more air underneath as shown here. But my God, his three pointers from that same day looked awful. Lately though, the hesitation set-up dribbles looked good, and his shot looked much more fluid than it has.
Kevin Rice: Uhhhh, better than it looked in November. I still don’t think it’s perfect, but it’s getting there.
RC: Specifically, does it seem as though he is now capable of effectively shooting NBA three-pointers? What about his free throws, are they solid?
TM: I don’t think we’ll be able to tell if Fultz is capable of being an effective shooter until he goes out there and proves it somewhat consistently. I think his jumper is probably farther along than his free throw form, but we can’t tell until he does it all against NBA players.
RB: Again, we’re judging the man off of 30-second Twitter clips, but I think his form is good. I mean, he’s not Ray Allen, but he’s not Bill Cartwright, either.
AD: His free throw looks fine to me, that’s a fell shot and as long as there isn’t a hitch, which there doesn’t appear to be, he’s good to go there. The three point shot is the last remaining question mark to me. We’ve seen him hit one or two here and there, but its been sporadic, it hasn’t looked totallyyy fluid, and we’ve yet to see him string a bunch of makes together OR go out and shoot a bunch of three’s publicly before a game like he’s been doing with his midrange shots. I think it’s fair to speculate there may still be issues with his shot from deep, which would explain why he hasn’t suited up yet when the rest of his game looks great.
ES: If when you say “capable,” you mean able -- yes. In fact, I serendipitously filmed the first three Fultz had in months. If you mean “capable,” as in above 32%, I have serious doubts for all the reasons described in question one.
AR: Considering I haven’t found a video for Markelle’s three pointers since January 14th, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say the threes aren’t ready. Maybe he’s still working on the strength to hoist 24 footers. However, when I see a video of him hoisting a three-quarter shot with one arm – which was cash, by the way – I shrug because I, like the rest of us, have no earthly clue.
KR: I know everyone freaks out when Keith or Jessica post videos of Markelle hitting 3s in shoot arounds, but people need to come to terms that for the most part, they are only showing us the makes. Some of the misses that have been in there are still baaad. I still believe that he can get his Washington form back, where he shot 41% from distance, but he still needs some time. It’s difficult to judge his progress on where he is as a free throw shooter, because he was only a 60% free throw shooter at Washington. From the videos I’ve seen, his free throw form looks decent, but there’s still an occasional hitch in there so again I’ll reiterate, he still needs some time.
RC: What about the rest of his game, beyond shooting? NBA-ready, or a work in progress? And why?
TM: The rest of Fultz’s game is NBA ready. I think people are starting to forget that there are reasons he was the #1 pick in the draft. He can get to the rim and draw fouls, his jumper coming back to form will just make him more dangerous.
RB: The rest of his game is the least of my concerns, to be honest. Given his inexperience, there are some obvious things that he needs to work on (finishing through contact, etc.), but nothing that would keep him off of the floor.
AD: Aside from the shooting, he’s ready to go- and oh my god is he good.
ES: I love the rest of his game. Embiid has been quoted saying Fultz has “torn up” practice. Clearly he has skills, we saw flashes in the first few games of the season. The tape he put together at Washington was incredible -- he’s a legit 5-star prospect with great pedigree and skills that translate well to the NBA game. I believe many people will be surprised at his playmaking ability, finding cutters, open shooters, and alley-oop partners as his collapses and snakes through the defense. I could envision him drawing a bunch of fouls, but I’m skeptical towards the chances of him shooting above 65%. While he has not put together a good tape on the defensive end, he has the tools and Brett Brown has shown he can get the best out of his players.
AR: Ehhh… I’ll grade “incomplete” on this. It’s one thing to be defended by coaches. It’s something else entirely when you’re defended by other NBA players. In the season opener against the Wizards, he still had the same dribbling skills and quickness that he had at the University of Washington. Based solely on that game, I still think his dribbling and ability to get to the rim are NBA-ready.
KR: Before the draft, Fultz was being called “one of the best guard prospects in recent years”, so I think he’ll do just fine. He can create for himself (something the Sixers are in dire need of), and he can finish with some of the most acrobatic moves I’ve ever seen. He’ll more than likely still hit his Rookie Wall, but he still has the chance to be a generational talent. My favorite thing about Markelle are his long ass arms. You can’t teach long arms. Long arms are either something you’re born with, or something you aren’t. Guys with long arms have the capability to do SO much more than guys with short arms, especially on defense. Guys with long arms always find ways to make an impact on the defensive end (Gary Payton, Kawhi Leonard), and on a team with defense savvy players in Covington, Embiid, and Simmons, I hope those longs arms are everywhere.
RC: Who would Markelle take minutes from? What are the odds he will be as or more effective than those people?
TM: If Fultz comes back this year I think he needs to take minutes away from Marco Belinelli. Fultz can play some pretty strong defense and if he proves he can shoot a jumper he brings more to the table than Belinelli does right now. McConnell is the spark plug off of the bench and gives the team a personality they need, he needs to keep his minutes.
RB: Fultz can and should eat into both TJ and Marco’s (and, to a much lesser extent, Redick’s) minutes. With a player as talented as Fultz, you find a way to make the lineups work.
AD: I think it’s safe to assume that he’d cut into a combination of TJ and Marco’s minutes, but I actually lean towards thinking he’ll steal more from Marco. With how long he’s been out, I think they’ll want a steadying presence like TJ or Ben alongside him at pretty much all times.
ES: Ben Simmons is certainly a person who could play 10 fewer minutes in the backcourt for 10 minutes in the frontcourt -- this would give Ben a breather and allow him to exploit his ability operating from the high-post on offense and grabbing defensive rebounds — igniting the fastbreak. He could also take minutes from TJ and a few players at the SG position; his inexperience will likely render him ineffective in his first few weeks playing. Belinelli is a boom-bust player because his game is entirely predicated upon his shooting, Fultz is more dynamic and would likely bring more to the table. The final candidates for sacrificing PT would be either Robert Covington and Justin Anderson if Brown wanted to explore some three-guard-lineups. Since Simmons is a 6-10 PG, you can play him with Fultz and Redick/Belinelli no problem and I imagine the coach who’s tried the most lineups in the NBA would experiment with this at some point as well.
AR: Assuming this question is versed in the sense Fultz would be coming back now, probably Belinelli. Belinelli has had some good shooting nights, but Fultz would be an upgrade in getting to the rim. He wouldn’t take minutes from Simmons because you can slide him to the PF position to swap minutes at one position for minutes at another. Yes, TJ’s play has been less than optimal lately, but he’s still the Sixers best backcourt defender coming off the bench (2.1 DWS/1.0 DBPM).
KR: My best guess is that he’ll take minutes away from TJ and Marco. It might be a good thing if he takes some away from TJ, because that will only motivate McConnell even more to make the most of his minutes. It will also take some weight off of TJ’s shoulders as he has less responsibility to carry as the team progresses. Fultz will probably get some from Marco, simply because Markelle is better than Marco.
RC: Overall, do you think playing Markelle now could make us a better team in the playoffs, or is he too raw and the team too deep for him to be a net positive?
TM: I’m a firm believer of holding Fultz out until next season. The Sixers are playing well right now and there’s no reason to rock the boat. Plus, keeping Fultz out will allow him to put whatever happened this year behind him.
RB: *pulls out megaphone* The Sixers need someone who can create his own shot. A dynamic talent like Fultz who can score at all three levels is the exact thing this team has been missing all year.
AD: I think the answer to this question is twofold. First, we don’t actually know how Markelle’s game looks at full speed right now so it’s hard to say whether he could help us in a playoff run. However, given the likelihood that he’ll probably be playing limited minutes and taking them from the likes of Belinelli and McConnell I don’t think he is going to really hurt their chances at winning either.
ES: Yes, it’s within the realm of plausibility. He’s a more dynamic player than Redick, Belinelli, or TJ and if they are having an off-night in the playoffs, it’s possible that he could provide a good 5-minute run and get a few buckets. This is a slippery slope that rests on the shoulders of coach Brown.
AR: Playing Markelle now COULD make us better. The team would theoretically have another dynamic scorer who can get his own shot and get shots for others. More ways to score points generally works well for any team.
KR: It’s one thing for a rookie to come out of college and adjust to the style of play in the NBA, but being a rookie and basically starting your career in the NBA playoffs is straight up scary. The playoffs are an entirely different beast than the regular season. Throwing a rookie who hasn’t really begun his NBA career yet into the fire of the playoffs seems like a bad idea to me.