February is quickly approaching and still no hint of when Markelle Fultz will again play in a game for the Sixers. If you forgot he actually did play in real games for the organization, you are forgiven. He suited up and got minutes in the team’s first four games. The last time he played was Oct. 23. The Eagles beat the Redskins that Monday night, 34-24. It was Week 7.
The rookie No. 1 overall pick was then shut down — or shut himself down, depending on what you want to believe — with shoulder soreness. More than three months have gone by and we’re no closer to any kind of answers than we were then. At first, the overly cautious organization did not deem his injury severe enough to sit him down. As witnessed by his playing in those first four games. But then Fultz's agent went public and suddenly the shoulder was bad enough that he was shut down.
There have been updates along the way and hints that he was close. Video from practices of him driving to the basket, making layups. Then more recently when we got to see him launching jumpers, and his shot still looked funky and ugly, as seen in this video posted by Jon Johnson from WIP on Jan. 25.
So there are two conclusions to be drawn. Either his shoulder is still not healed and that is causing his shot to look strange. (Keep in mind, the Sixers put out a release in early December saying he no longer had soreness and the scapular muscle imbalance had healed.)
Or door No. 2, his shoulder actually is fine and it’s a psychological issue. In layman’s terms, he has a case of the yips.
I’m no doctor, I have no access to Fultz's medical records and I have not had a conversation with him or team doctors regarding the injury. But I have suspected all along that this entire issue was in his head, not his shoulder.
So why is he still not playing? Conditioning? That release was issued more than six weeks ago. His shot clearly is a mess. My theory is he either decided to change his shot for some unknown reason or someone close to him did. And once the Sixers' coaches and brass saw it, they knew immediately something was very wrong. But they didn’t think the "injury" was serious enough to shut him down. This is an organization that is overly conservative when it comes to injuries and that’s putting it mildly. Again, it wasn’t until the agent forced the team’s hand that he was sat down.
We’ve seen players in the past simply lose the ability to perform the basic duties of their job. Most prominently in baseball, former major-league starter Steve Blass lost the ability to pitch. Steve Sax couldn’t throw the ball from his second base position to first. Take a look at the hitch in Charles Barkley’s golf swing. Is this what’s happened to Fultz?
Whether it’s the head or the shoulder, this is a scary proposition for the Sixers, who desperately need Fultz's ability to create his own shot. All that is known is both he and his shot are M.I.A.