CAMDEN, N.J. — Markelle Fultz is not ready to return to the court.
Not today, and maybe not the remainder of the month. The 2017 No. 1 pick has to continue to improve his shot and his health before he plays for the first time since Oct. 23.
Following Sunday’s practice head coach Brett Brown explained the work that still has to be done.
“It’s my understanding that there is still some discomfort from time to time,” Brown said. “And I think that’s part of recognizing that there’s still some sort of erratic shooting, that it’s not where it used to be yet. And I hope everybody writes that ‘yet.’”
Start with his shoulder. Fultz was sidelined because of the right shoulder and the scapular muscle imbalance. He received treatment and physical therapy with the Sixers and Dr. Ben Kibler, Medical Director of the Shoulder Center of Kentucky at the Lexington Clinic. Fultz was cleared for a key physical marker, full-contact 5-on-5, last weekend, but has not participated in a complete practice.
“I don’t know if we could say it’s 100 percent,” Brown said. ”The doctors could say that better than me. But it certainly is getting better, enough where they’ve allowed him to practice and shoot threes and pretty much do everything that the team does.”
When asked if Fultz has to be 100 percent with his shoulder before he can play, Brown replied, “I think what he needs to be is able to shoot a basketball.”
Then there’s the shot. Fultz, who averaged 23.2 points last year in college, altered his form and struggled to knock down buckets early into his rookie season. Part of the enigma of this situation is the question of cause and effect: did Fultz change his shot because of the injury, or was the injury caused by the change in his shot?
In the limited portions of practice open to the media, Fultz has looked more effective driving to the basket than pulling up for jumpers and threes. Brown noted his criteria for evaluating Fultz has more to do with him “passing an eye test” than the distance from which he is shooting.
“How would I assess where his shot is currently at? It’s not where it used to be. It’s not where it used to be,” Brown said. “His free throw, I think, is. But some of the longer shots and the rise ups are not. And that’s just part of him getting through this sort of a progressive adjustment, trying to figure out the injury going forward. But I think that it isn’t. The free throw is.”
Brown has a plan to coach Fultz back from injury, just as he has done with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. This routine includes individual drills, one-on-one shooting tournaments with teammates Brown calls “Wimbledon,” and reviewing film from Fultz’s performance in practice.
“His health, his confidence, his whole reloading to an NBA court, in my opinion, is going to be how well do you practice, and I’m going to coach the hell out of him,” Brown said. “We’re going to jump him and scold him and teach him and coach him like he’d been with me forever … We’re walking down the month of January. We’re going to chart it, we’re going to show it.”