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Markelle Fultz and snowballing expectations

He’s actually #NotARookie, but fans should still allow Fultz plenty of growing pains when he comes back.

NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

In addition to training Joel Embiid, Jayson Tatum, and a number of other NBA players, Pure Sweat CEO Drew Hanlen has been busy this summer constructing the Markelle Fultz redemption bandwagon, big enough for everyone in Philadelphia to climb aboard. In recent weeks, we’ve been fed videos of Fultz working out (but not shooting), still shots of his revamped form, and all manner of praise that the former Washington Husky will return to the level of a first overall pick.

In a recent episode of the Talking Schmidt podcast, Hanlen said the following about Fultz:

“We’re way ahead of pace where I thought we were gonna be. I thought it was gonna take me at least six weeks before we had kind of a serviceable jump shot. We already started to shoot with a jump in Week 2.

It’s not perfect yet, but I think by the end of the summer it will be perfect, he’ll be back rolling and he’ll show people why he was the No. 1 pick.”

Seemingly every other day, a new shrouded-in-secrecy report comes out hyping up the Markelle-aissance. The latest on Sunday came via Yahoo Sports insider Jordan Schultz:

Every new morsel of optimism has Sixers fans frothing at the mouth for Fultz to return to form. Especially now that the dreams of LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard are a thing of the past, more of the hope for the Sixers to improve this season is tied up in Fultz becoming a valuable member of the rotation. Soon, Fultz will be expected to win Rookie of the Year (which will really anger Jazz fans since he’s legitimately not eligible), Comeback Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, sky’s the limit. The way the hype is escalating, if Markelle doesn’t transform into a Super Saiyan at some point, a segment of the fanbase will be disappointed.

However, there’s a lot of middle ground between completely forgetting how to shoot and being the type of impact player some fans are hoping to see. Fultz only has 14 NBA games under his belt and will be subject to the same sort of learning curve players with that little professional experience face every year.

Working against Fultz is the fact that the Sixers are no longer at a point where fans are happy to accept moral victories while young players are given wide latitude to develop their games. Philadelphia vastly exceeded expectations in winning 52 games last season, and are now thrown around in conversations with Boston and Toronto as the teams competing to come out of the Eastern Conference. What happens if Fultz shoots, say, 28% from three? Clearly, that’s a huge upgrade from 0%, but it’s a negative for the team, both in terms of the actual production those shots would yield and via defenders still not honoring his shot and clogging the lane. Will fans still be as excited to see Fultz on the floor if he’s hurting the offense?

What about if, even with Hanlen going full Mr. Miyagi, Fultz is still a poor free throw shooter? He only shot 64.9% in college, after all, and that was pre-yips. Shooting in the 60’s from the charity stripe is an undeniable upgrade from 47.6% last year, but it’s not hard to imagine opposing teams going Foul-a-Fultz like they did with Ben Simmons last season. If Fultz costs the team a game because of missing free throws, how will fans react? Will discussion boards explode that he shouldn’t be in the game in crunch time?

I’m optimistic that even if there are some bumps in the road, people will still take the long view when it comes to Fultz’s development. Fans were generally supportive of Fultz last season through his struggles, in a situation where it would have been easy for the much-ballyhooed boo birds to come out in full force. The outpouring of joy his teammates showed him following his triple-double last season demonstrated they have his back.

Markelle Fultz appears ready to step back into the spotlight and show the world that Bryan Colangelo’s biggest move wasn’t a franchise-altering mistake. Working with Hanlen, Fultz is showing patience in staying away from 5-on-5 action and re-building his shot from the ground up. Fans should also remain patient in knowing that like with the Sixers franchise, this particular rebuild just might take a little bit of time.

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