In a season full of weird weeks, the last one may have been the weirdest for Markelle Fultz.
With the arrival of Jimmy Butler, Fultz lost his spot in the starting lineup. As Brett Brown stated, it’s nothing that Fultz did wrong, it’s a matter of having a superstar player like Butler and using the team’s optimum starting five.
If anything, this move could benefit Fultz in the long run. Instead of trying to fit on the court with Ben Simmons, he’s now just leading the second unit and playing with the ball in his hands.
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Stat-wise, there’s nothing that will blow you away. He averaged 6.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 19.8 minutes a night in four games. He shot 44 percent from the field, which is fine for a perimeter player.
The inconsistent shot is maddening on a couple fronts. A few times last week he came off screens and took confident mid-range jumpers that he buried. Then he got to the free throw line and I have no idea what happened.
In Miami, the now infamous pump fake free throw took place. There had been a hitch over the past couple games that culminated in that attempt. Fultz said the shot slipped but it’s hard to buy that. Witnessing that shot, I just plain felt bad for Fultz. We all saw the work he put in during the offseason and to be scrutinized for that one weird shot is rough.
On Friday vs. Utah, he revealed an odd juggle as he raised the ball up to his release point. A couple of the shots looked better and it clearly eliminated the hitch from his shot. The difficult thing will be repeating that motion.
It's a little disappointing that Fultz hasn't taken a three since Oct. 30 in Toronto. He hasn't taken a jumper outside of the mid-range since that ugly jumper in Brooklyn on Nov. 4.
Fultz has said it’s a “trial and error” thing. There’s nothing wrong with that. The concern would be if Fultz kept struggling and was too stubborn to fix the issues. The kid has at least proven to be coachable and willing to work. That’s no small thing.
He’s also shown he’s willing to fight and scrap on the floor. This is just one example of plays he’s made this season where he’s hustled and earned his team an extra possession.
What also makes watching Fultz struggle with his shot difficult is how much he’s improved in other areas. Defensively, he’s already grown by leaps and bounds from the first game of the season. He’s doing such a better job physically and mentally. His on-the-ball defense is a little inconsistent but he’s just 20. If he ever figures out how to use his length and athleticism more on that end, he could be special defensively.
Offensively, he continues to be aggressive in getting to the basket. The most impressive thing I’ve noticed is how he takes on elite shot blockers. You’re told as a driver to go straight into the shot blocker’s chest. Fultz did that twice against reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. One drive he finished, and he forced Gobert into a foul on the other.
You see the work, you see the progress. You just have to hope it all comes together one day.
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