The man who led the Pac-12 in scoring as a freshman at Washington has somehow lost his ability to shoot a basketball. It has kept the No. 1 pick on the bench in Philadelphia and has made him look like a draft bust.
When discussing the unexpected surge of the Washington men’s basketball team, the refrain has generally been something like this: “They’ve already got X more wins than last year, and they’re doing it without the No. 1 pick in the draft!”
The improvement has been remarkable, but it also prompts a question: What happened to that No. 1 pick?
Here’s the answer: Yikes.
Despite his team’s cringe-worthy 9-22 record last season, Markelle Fultz had the best statistical season in Huskies hoops history.
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He averaged a Pac-12-high 23.2 points to go along with 5.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds and a three-point percentage of 41.3. Throw in a conference-leading Player Efficiency rating of 27.9 — a number far better than that of Lonzo Ball — and it’s easy to see why the 76ers traded up to snatch him with the first pick.
Seven months later, it’s just as easy to see how the Sixers may have mortgaged their future as a result.
No need to mince words here — Fultz’s jump shot is a disaster. It looks like a “before” video a shooting coach would post next to the “after” vid. The effortless, unblockable release has morphed into the kind of form you’d expect from Screech.
As Philly coach Brett Brown said, “I’ve never experienced anything like this.”
I’ve written before that, due to his team’s single-digit win total, Fultz won’t be embraced by Husky fans as one of the program’s all-time greats. But those same fans still have to be feeling sympathy for one of the program’s most talented prospects.
It would be one thing if Fultz was a narcissist devoid of kindness or motivation. But by all accounts, he was an ideal teammate who was the last guy to leave the gym.
That paid off for him on Montlake. Now, however, nothing seems to be working. Fultz has a genuine case of the yips. A random fan might very well be able to take him in H-O-R-S-E.
Granted, Fultz suffered a shoulder injury in the offseason that reportedly still causes discomfort. But that isn’t the reason he hasn’t returned to the court yet.
The reason is because he’d only go 50 percent shooting into the Puget Sound from the ferry. It is, quite frankly, astonishing.
“I think what he needs to be is able to shoot a basketball,” the brutally honest Brown told Philadelphia media last week. “(In college) he was a wiggly, do-what-he-wants-to-do guard. And so, when you go back, you say, ‘How do you find that again?’ ”
LaVar Ball has taken some of the heat off Fultz, as his histrionics have shifted attention toward his struggling son Lonzo. But as we’re more than halfway through a season in which Fultz has played just four games, it’s fair to wonder whether this was a blown pick.
I hope it isn’t. Fultz seems like a first-class dude. But right now I wonder if he’d even start over David Crisp.
For what it’s worth, shooting is often something NBA coaches have been able to fix. Spurs star Kawhi Leonard shot 25 percent from three-point distance at San Diego State, and has shot 38.6 percent from 3 feet farther in the NBA. Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum — whom Boston selected after trading down to the Sixers — shot 34.2 percent from three at Duke, and is now second in the NBA at 45.7 percent.
But those two guys improved their form. They didn’t straight-up misplace it like Fultz did.
Gifted as he is as a playmaker and shot-blocker, Markelle’s touch is what elevated him to the top of nearly every scout’s list.
Most people who have played know that shooting is 50 percent mental. Shaquille O’Neal reportedly made about three quarters of his free throws in practice but could never carry that over to the game. And right now, it seems Fultz’s brain is yelling “brick!” every time he squares up.
So let’s hope he can fix it. He’s too talented a player and too nice of a guy to be stranded on the bench.
At the moment, his jump shot pains any set of eyeballs that dare look at it. Cross your fingers that the “after” video is coming soon.