Markelle Fultz and Isaiah Thomas seem like genuinely good dudes facing adversity that few if anybody pictured at this point in 2017.
Two Huskies. Two basketball careers. Two years removed from a peak that’s almost unrecognizable now.
One is Markelle Fultz, the first pick in the 2017 NBA draft. Fultz may be the most high-profile recruit to ever suit up at Washington. In his only year on Montlake, he averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists while shooting 41.3 percent from the field.
Comb through stat lines of any other Husky and you won’t find any as efficient Fultz. That’s why the 76ers disregarded UW’s 9-22 record with Markelle at the helm and traded up to nab him in the draft.
What followed, however, was one of the most bizarre unravelings in NBA history. A shoulder injury dubbed a “scapular muscle imbalance” supposedly wrecked Fultz’s shooting mechanics. But the naked eye suggests he’s simply been infected with the yips.
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What Charles Barkley’s swing is to golf, Fultz’s stroke is to basketball. The defense-spreading jump shot that caused scouts to salivate completely disappeared.
It got so bad that Philadelphia traded him to Orlando on Thursday for the middling Jonathon Simmons and a pair of draft picks. It’s far too early to call Fultz the most disappointing top pick the league has ever seen, but he’s out of the gate quickly.
The other Husky is Isaiah Thomas, the last pick in the 2011 NBA draft. Fultz may be seen as one of the worst first selections, but Thomas was the best final selection.
By his third year in the league, Isaiah was scoring 20.3 points per game. By his sixth year, he was at 28.9 points per game while leading the Celtics to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
He talked about the “Brinks truck” Boston would have to bring out to re-sign him, as he considered himself a max-contract player worthy a nine-figure contract. But after suffering a hip injury in the 2017 playoffs, he ended up inking a minimum contract with Denver last July and has yet to see the floor.
Is Thomas still a guy that’s earned over $30 million playing the sport he loves? Sure. Does that mean you can’t feel sorry for him nonetheless? No.
Two years ago, it wouldn’t have been crazy to think that Fultz and Thomas would be two of the more prominent players in the NBA right now. Markelle was drafted by a club that could reach the NBA Finals behind Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Thomas was on a club that not only had the best record in the East, but the No. 1 overall draft pick before it traded down to Philly.
Hell, predicting that Fultz would D up on Thomas in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals wouldn’t have been a stretch. But now? Fultz D’ing up on Thomas in a G League game is a far more likely scenario.
There are some guys in sports whose shortcomings don’t cause you to feel anything. Whether they have inflated egos or are just plain rude, their failures feel like karma is doing its job.
But Fultz and Thomas aren’t like that. They seem like genuinely good dudes facing adversity that few if anybody pictured at this point in 2017.
Frankly, I don’t know how it’s going to turn out for either of them. The 20-year-old Fultz has time on his side, but appears genuinely spooked when he takes the floor. That’s not a quick fix. The 30-year-old Thomas has a heck of a track record, but hasn’t been the same since his injury, and at 5-feet-9, is a defensive liability.
I also don’t know when either will return to the court. Fultz is currently out due to “thoracic outlet syndrome,” which is an injury involving the nerves between the shoulder and neck. Thomas, meanwhile, has been rumored to return to the Nuggets’ lineup next week, but he supposedly hasn’t participated in 5-on-5 drills, and may not seem necessary for a team that’s gone 37-18 so far without him.
What I do hope is that it works out for these guys. They’re talented, hard-working players that every-day folks would like to see succeed.
Their plunges have been tough to watch. Their revivals, on the other hand, would be quite rewarding.