The vaguely and increasingly sad saga of Markelle Fultz’s lost shooting stroke has become one of the defining stories of this NBA season. And yet, for all the reporting and blogging around it, all the proffered diagnoses from coaches and GMs and anonymous sources close to Fultz or the Sixers, all the baffling and depressing smartphone videos of the 2017 draft’s top overall pick spasming the ball in an interpretively basketward direction with all the evident intention and musculoskeletal coordination of a dancing squid rice bowl, it’s February now and nobody has landed on anything even remotely like a credible and fulsome-seeming explanation of exactly what the fuck is going on with this dude. All anybody seems to know at any given moment is that Fultz formerly did not shoot weird but sure as hell does now, for some reason or reasons, and presumably will not be suiting up against the Knicks tonight, or maybe ever.
Philly Voice’s Kyle Neubeck has a big reported Fultz story today; it’s good; go read it. It represents the best attempt yet at finding a definitive answer re: why Fultz returned from a post-Summer League break sporting a new free-throw stroke that would make Bill Cartwright barf in horror and now apparently has been reduced to just straight up shot-putting his jumpers... and still can’t quite settle on that answer. For what it’s worth, in my reading, the evidence on hand seems most strongly to support the hypothesis that tinkering with his shooting mechanics precipitated a catastrophic outbreak of Steve Blass disease and possibly a shoulder injury, if that’s even possible. In any event, if for some reason you are in the mood to feel just terrible, I recommend the video embedded about halfway down Neubeck’s article, of Fultz practicing some appallingly stiff and jerky and unnatural looking five-foot set shots, and airballing one.
As for the text, the part I want to draw your attention to comes right at the opening, in the first paragraph. It portrays Fultz, outside of the auspices of the 76ers organization, getting in some nighttime shooting reps with a close lifelong confidant/personal coach named Keith Williams, whom at least some of Neubeck’s sources peg as the guy whose meddling fucked up Fultz’s shot in the first place. I’m gonna highlight the part that set off the klaxons for me:
On a blustery winter night in the middle of January, Markelle Fultz is working. Sixteen miles from Philadelphia’s gorgeous, state-of-the-art practice facility in Camden, the No. 1 overall pick is in a high school gym, putting in extra work away from the team. He is in sweatpants and flanked by a couple confidants, one of whom holds three different sized balls for Fultz to use while going through various shooting motions.
Now, I am not an expert on shooting or anything else, but... that seems extremely weird, right? Like, just intuitively, what would this sort of drill prepare you for? Just in case Fultz finds himself open in the corner and the pass comes his way but suddenly the ball is the size of a grapefruit for some reason? If you were designing a shooting drill for the express purpose of systematically destroying a player’s confidence in his shot, wouldn’t you vary the sizes of the balls he was shooting with, so that no particular motion could ever be the right one?
Pretty much everything authoritative I’ve ever read or heard about shooting a basketball emphasizes that the keys are consistency and repeatability: that the guys who are great shooters are the guys whose shooting motions always are exactly the same, no matter whether they’re pulling up off the dribble or shooting off the catch or what, so that they produce as much consistency as possible in their results. But, like, the entire basis of building a consistent, repeatable shooting motion, presumably, is that the ball and the hoop are fixed constants: You will never need to adjust for any variation in these, only for variations of distance. Right?
What I am getting at here is: Do I need to buy a bunch of different-sized balls in order to make the NBA, or am I cool sticking with what I’ve been doing?