While the former No. 1 draft pick may have a way to go before realizing his pre-draft expectations, the Orlando Magic’s gamble on the guard just might pay off. To the excitement of fans, there are early preseason indications that we may see Markelle Fultz this year.
Markelle Fultz’s scapular muscle imbalance
The Philadelphia 76ers selected Fultz as the top draft pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Fultz showed great promise in his first season until he sustained a shoulder injury.
A scapular muscle imbalance sidelined the former Washington Husky. It wasn’t a huge surprise to anyone considering he’d experienced shoulder issues in the preseason. The injury didn’t require surgery and three weeks of physical therapy were mandated.
Most had never heard of this injury. Shoulder function and movement are two-thirds from the ball and socket (glenohumeral joint). The other third is from the shoulder blade against the chest wall (scapulothoracic joint). The scapula (shoulder blade) is part of the glenoid, and problems with it can cause joint problems. When a scapular muscle imbalance occurs, the muscles must be retrained.
Fultz’s performance immediately dropped with the injury. When he shot just 33% from the field and didn’t attempt any three-pointers in four games, the team decided to bench him until he recovered fully.
The 76ers’ ambitions
After years of nothing spectacular, Philadelphia decided to build a new core that may launch them to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. This new core consisted of Fultz, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.
Injuries plagued the new, powerful core. Joel Embiid sustained knee and foot injuries, and Ben Simmons hurt his foot. Fultz’s injury, in particular, was the subject of much debate by sports analysts who wondered if his injury was physical or psychological.
Later, Fultz said it truly was an injury. He told the Sporting News the injury “didn’t allow me to go through the certain paths that I needed to, to shoot the ball.” Fultz explained he had a case of “the yips” in 2017 “where he completely forgot how to shoot.”
Fultz did return to the hardwood later in his first season. While he had a few blocked shots and an airball, on April 11, 2018, the 19-year-old became the youngest NBA player to record a triple-double. He put up 10 points and 8 assists in just 14 minutes, a record previously held by Lonzo Ball.
In the 2018-19 season, head coach Brett Brown started Fultz at shooting guard over veteran JJ Redick. Then, Fultz quickly lost the job because of his injury and poor production. His agents announced he wouldn’t participate in practices or games until the shoulder injury could be evaluated. Later in 2018, it was described as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS), a condition that would greatly impair Fultz’s ability to shoot a basketball.
Redemption in Orlando?
In February 2019, Fultz was traded to the Orlando Magic for Jonathon Simmons and two draft picks. Magic head coach Steve Clifford explained that he didn’t anticipate Fultz returning for the season because the shoulder injury was “very serious.” The young NBA player faded into the background — until recently.
Identifying the injury calmed the young player who is showing signs of life on the court. Fultz, who hadn’t played an NBA game since November, has impressed fans in the Magic’s first two preseason games.
While some fans are skeptical, even the casual fan notices his confidence is growing. Fultz is taking three-pointers now. He’s navigating inside the arc, twisting around defenders. The 6-foot-4 guard seeks out short jumpers just inside the paint and can sometimes make it to the rim. Keeping his head up, Fultz uses his size to take advantage of passing angles.
According to Yahoo Sports, Steve Clifford said, “He can throw every pass…” The coach went on to say not many players could do this. Fultz will manage TOS for the rest of his career. To combat it, he’s using massage, rehab, strengthening, and rest. With the condition diagnosed and managed, the world may be able to see just what this former star can do.
Fultz says he’s never doubted himself and all the talk about him never got to him. Videos of the young player offer a preview of the season and give fans cautious optimism.