CAMDEN, N.J. — The concept sounds simple enough: Shoot when you’re open. But for Markelle Fultz, having the confidence to take open shots is a huge step after a rookie season derailed by a shoulder injury and the much-maligned jumper that accompanied it.
“The best thing I see in him, and I saw it in the month of September, is he’s not bashful,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said Sunday at training camp. “He takes the shots he should shoot. And sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t. But his mindset is money. He’s really not gun-shy at all. And I think that’s as good a compliment as I could give him.”
Fultz, who shot down the notion that he had the "yips" (see story) on Saturday, wouldn’t detail the mechanical adjustments he’s made. But the brief glimpses we’ve seen of his jumper so far, both in a Players’ Tribune video and at training camp, look nothing like the shaky, hesitant shot we saw last season. The release appears more fluid, the follow-through more natural and pronounced. He looked comfortable working a pick-and-roll with Joel Embiid and pulling up from just inside the foul line during a scrimmage at the end of practice.
Markelle Fultz with the soft touch on the pull-up jumper. pic.twitter.com/BihMo5cwxX— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) September 23, 2018
“I just had to figure out what worked for me,” Fultz said. “It was a lot of trial-and-error stuff, and I found out what clicked. I’m happy with it and I’m just going to keep working every day.”
The sheer volume of Fultz’s work with trainer Drew Hanlen is the No. 1 reason for his newfound confidence. Brown said Fultz took 150,000 jumpers this summer.
“You feel like you’ve studied and you’re ready to take a test,” Brown said. “And he’s done that, he’s put in the time. To me, his body language, his spirit, really to me reeks of one that seems very sure in himself. I think that’s based out of him knowing he hasn’t skipped steps or cheated. He’s invested time and he feels pretty good about it, and he should.”
Brown placed plenty of faith in Hanlen this offseason; not every coach would’ve trusted an outsider to repair their No. 1 pick’s shot.
“His reputation with a few of the players that I know was excellent,” Brown said. “Any time you get somebody that’s committed to live with somebody for the summer, and the client, the player is really equally as excited to partner up as well. And re-position himself on the other side of the country; the Philadelphia scene for a moment probably didn’t produce a ton of great memories and he just wanted to get away. And I applauded it.
“We maintained continuous dialogue and flying out there and seeing him … I think that Drew’s done a great job. He’s really taken it personally, trying to bring him under his wing and help a young man as much as somebody’s shot, and for those reasons, I respect Drew’s genuine care for him. It’s deeper than, ‘let’s fix his shot.’ And I respect it, I appreciate it.”
If Fultz is taking and making outside shots, the prospect of playing him together with Ben Simmons becomes much more promising. The pair were together again during the Sixers' end-of-practice scrimmage, with Simmons at the power forward spot and Fultz running the point.
“It just helps to know that you have someone out there who’s going to get you the ball when you’re open,” Fultz said of Simmons, “and who’s going to play as hard as you also.”
Trudging into Camden every day and trying to fix what was wrong with his body and the shot that had served him well most of his life, then sitting on the sidelines at night, must not have been a very fun way to spend most of last season for Fultz. This season feels very different.
“Just being able to know that I prepared very well for this season, I can’t wait to start it off with these guys,” Fultz said. “Every day I’ve been coming in, I’ve been happy.”