Hey, did you know Markelle Fultz had been in Kentucky for a while? No? Well, he was!
The No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft spent last week in receiving “physical therapy for soreness and scapular muscle imbalance with Dr. Ben Kibler, Medical Director of the Shoulder Center of Kentucky at the Lexington Clinic,” according to Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia. Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown is glad he’s back!
“We are just happy to have him back,” Brown said after the team’s Wednesday practice. “I felt like I haven’t seen him in a long time.”
You’re not the only one, Coach! It’s been nearly six weeks since the Sixers shut down the malfunctioning Fultz, and nearly two weeks since a medical update that said Fultz’s situation is improving, that he’d “begin progressing toward full basketball activities” and would be “re-evaluated in approximately two to three weeks.”
That update on how the shoulder’s responding to increased basketball activity hasn’t come yet. One report suggested that update might come Thursday, ahead of the Sixers’ meeting with the Los Angeles Lakers, but evidently, no dice:
No update. Only players are made available at shootaround. https://t.co/LiULfyS1kf
— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) December 7, 2017
The team determines who is made available, and Fultz wasn't on the court when we were let in. https://t.co/ixZdDzhHeQ
— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) December 7, 2017
On one hand, it’s not necessarily stunning that the Sixers wouldn’t have a hard-and-fast timeline nailed down, even six weeks down the line, given the nature of Fultz’s specific injury. From athletic trainer Justin Shaginaw for the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Return to play can be very difficult to predict, especially with the diagnosis of scapular dyskinesis. Some athletes respond to rehab in a few weeks whereas others require months of work. Rehab focuses on improving scapular stability and movement patterns, but also addressing any kinetic chain dysfunctions that may be contributing to the shoulder issue. Sometimes another injury, such as Fultz’s previous ankle sprain, can cause certain muscle groups to overcompensate, resulting in dysfunction elsewhere in the body, like Fultz’s shoulder injury. Think of it as your car’s alignment being off.
On the other, though, it’s not unreasonable for Sixers fans to find the ongoing lack of communication about what’s going on — especially after saying they’d be reporting back about how Fultz had responded to increased activity — pretty concerning. They’ve got some experience with this, after all.
Fultz hasn’t suited up since Oct. 23, when he scored two points on 1-for-4 shooting with three assists, three turnovers, two rebounds and a steal in 16 minutes of work in Philly’s 97-86 win over the Detroit Pistons. The performance — tentative, labored, and pained for a fourth straight game — exacerbated concerns that something was seriously wrong with the former Washington standout.
The concerns began to crop up before the start of the season, when footage from Sixers training camp and preseason games showed Fultz sporting a drastically different, and significantly less successful, shooting motion than the one he’d featured while knocking down 41 percent of his 3-point tries and 65 percent of his free throws in his lone year on campus. They persisted as Fultz began his career by making only nine of his first 27 field-goal attempts — with none coming from farther than 14 feet away — and six of his first 12 free throws.
The rumblings quickly grew loud enough that neither Fultz’s camp nor the Sixers could ignore them anymore. Fultz’s agent issuing a pair of confusing and seemingly contradictory statements about what exactly was going on with his client’s right shoulder. First, Raymond Brothers said that the 19-year-old had had “fluid drained out of the back of his shoulder” before the start of the regular season and “literally cannot raise up his arms to shoot the basketball.” Several hours after that, he reversed course, saying Fultz “had a cortisone shot on Oct. 5, which means fluid was put into his shoulder — not taken out.”
A day later, the Sixers — who have had more than their fair share of issues with injuries to their top draft picks, and with a method of communicating information about those injuries that doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence in what’s going on behind the scenes — shut Fultz down. In so doing, they committed to giving 2017’s top choice — a pick the Sixers got from the Boston Celtics in exchange for 2017’s No. 1 selection (used on Jayson Tatum, who looks great) and another first-round pick in either 2018 (if the Los Angeles Lakers’ choice falls between Nos. 2 and 5) or 2019 (belonging to either Philly or the Sacramento Kings, whichever lands higher) — as much time as he needed to get his shoulder and his head right after a trying start to his NBA career.
The good news: no less a source than Joel Embiid reports that the rookie’s still in good cheer as he goes through the monotony of rehab.
“I’ve been talking to him, even though he was away,” Embiid said, according to Camerato. “His spirits are in a good place and it was great to have him back.”
Then again, after Fultz’s Washington Huskies pulled a major upset on Embiid’s Kansas Jayhawks on Wednesday night, JoJo might have preferred it if his buddy had kept quiet:
Social media sniping aside, though, Fultz’s ongoing absence remains a fly in the ointment of what has otherwise been a pretty wonderful start to the season for the Sixers, who sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference at 13-10, and who have shown flashes of incredibly fun and dominant play behind menacing pivot Embiid and All-World rookie playmaker Ben Simmons.
“This is not normal,” one Eastern Conference general manager told Bleacher Report’s Ken Berger of the Fultz saga. “It’s perplexing.”
That remains the case. Sure, Fultz’s hinge is healthy enough to show us all that he can lift his arm over his head to put a shirt on, but it’s not enough to move beyond “minimal” activity in his return to the team following his time in Kentucky:
Brett Brown says Fultz didn't do much in practice today, and that he's barely even thought of how he will distribute ballhandling responsibilities when Fultz does eventually return.
— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) December 6, 2017
And so, until Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo speaks up, there’s not much else to do besides wait and wonder whether Fultz is a few weeks away from being unveiled as the latest Philly freshman to take a medical redshirt after coming to the City of Brotherly Love.
– – – – – – –