The modern NBA has seen its fair share of unorthodox free throw releases. Whether you prefer Shaq’s knuckleballing bricks or Chuck Hayes’ hitch, the best basketball league on the planet will provide you with occasional moments of levity at the charity stripe.
One commonality for much of the observed free throw shenanigans, however, is that they have chiefly been among big men. Even today, as the NBA has embraced a style of offense that favors big men who can shoot, the worst free throw shooters remain big men such as Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan, and Dwight Howard. Additionally, it has been the norm for quite some time that NBA guards shoot typically in the 80% ballpark, while the league average is at around 77%. Which leads us to the curious case of Markelle Fultz.
Fultz, the talented scoring guard out of the University of Washington, has been compared to James Harden due to a shared penchant of getting into the lane and similar physical measurables. However, Fultz has been drawing the most attention at the start of the 2017-18 NBA season for something less auspicious: his horrendous shooting.
Now, you may be a big stats person, or you may insist on evaluating players based on the so-called “eye test.” With regards to Fultz’s dubious shooting stroke, both the numbers and the eye test bring up red flags.
First, the data: through four NBA regular season games, Fultz has shot 9-27 (33%) from the field and has yet to take a three-pointer. The rookie has also gone just 6-12 from the charity stripe. While Fultz’s shooting stroke was a pre-draft concern, having shot just 65% from the free throw line during lone college season, a 41.3% clip from downtown offset any major concerns about the guard’s jump shot.
Now, the eye-test. Here is a clip of Fultz’s jumpshot in a recent game against Detroit. And here are his free throws. Clearly, something is left to be desired. Fultz has gone from a relatively compact, one motion jump shot (albeit with a somewhat unorthodox manner of getting the ball to its release point) to a heinous crime of a release. His free throws are even more puzzling. Instead of a normal, one-motion release, Fultz pauses his shot in front of his face and tries to coax the ball into the net.
For a no. 1 overall draft pick and a man who has practiced the game of basketball for thousands of hours, Markelle Fultz seems to have wasted his resources tremendously. If we look solely at his shooting numbers and the aesthetics of his jump shot, we would leave Dr. Naismith rolling in his grave. However, recent reports suggest that there exist some murky machinations behind the scenes of Fultz’s play; Fultz has been playing injured, having received a cortisone shot from 76ers medical staff. Fultz’s agent has recanted his earlier statement, which said that his client had fluid from his shoulder drained and that he “could barely lift his shoulders.” In light of news of Fultz’s discomfort going public, Philadelphia has held him out for the team’s next three games and set a re-evaluation for his treatment later next week.
If Fultz wacky shot-alteration is a result of a shoulder injury, then Sixers fans have cause celebre, as well as discomfort. While Fultz may not have permanently changed his shooting mechanics, why was he playing while injured? Who cleared the budding star to play, risking further injury and turmoil for his career, as well as a franchise that has been criticized for its handling of medical treatment of players in the past? The story likely has several more layers to it, but with any luck we can expect to see Markelle back on the court, shooting like a person who has seen the game of basketball played.
Photo: Matt Slocum/AP