The regular season debut of No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz will start on Wednesday night for the Sixers against the Washington Wizards. The question is when he’ll get in the game.
Nobody is quite sure what is wrong with Fultz at the moment after he had himself quite a dreadful preseason. In two games, Fultz averaged just 8.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting seven of 24 (29%) from the field. Fultz wasn’t able to play in three of the Sixers’ five preseason games due to both a right shoulder injury and right knee soreness.
“I think his shoulder is affecting him more than he lets on,” coach Brett Brown said. “You can tell with his free throw, you know, trying to get that ball up. It’s the follow [through] from his body. But he’s been working on just trying to get that thing rehabilitated.”
Although injuries have definitely factored into Fultz’s struggles, there may be a deeper issue at hand. Fultz used the offseason to try and tinker with his shot. It was evident in preseason that his form had changed, especially from the free throw line. While his form could be attributed to his shoulder injury, it’s still alarming as one of the main reasons the Sixers drafted Fultz was due to his 41 percent shooting percentage from the three-point line in college last season at Washington.
In summer league, Fultz looked much more like himself where he averaged 16.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting six of 16 (40%) from the outside.
“We have got to get him back on track,” Brown said, regarding Fultz’s shot. “His heart is in the right place. All by himself he pivoted out over the summer to try and make it better, and tweak it. The good news is he was in a place at one point, and it's not like it's a rebuild from ground zero. You just have got to rewind.”
Fultz averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists as a freshman last season for the Huskies. His ability and talent is there and it’s up to the coaching staff to help him discover his form again.
He’ll be joining a list he doesn’t want to be on Wednesday night as just the third healthy No. 1 overall pick not to start on opening night since 2006. Andrea Bargnani came off the bench for the Raptors in 2006 while Anthony Bennett did so for the Cavs in 2013.
Veteran Jerryd Bayless is expected to start in Fultz’s place until further notice. In nine seasons, Bayless has career averages of 8.6 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.