He wasn’t a revelation. For that matter in many ways he was pretty clunky. A handful of times last night, in his first game action since October—since some mysterious combination of shoulder injury and Steve Blass disease took away his ability to perform basketball’s most fundamental act—Markelle Fultz seemed not to notice the activity directly in front of him, and served the ball pretty much directly to a waiting shot-blocker as a result. It wasn’t great!
He looked, in these moments, like a simultaneously green and rusty 19-year-old a bit overwhelmed to find himself in an NBA game. That’s what he was, and all in all, that is a cool and extremely special thing to be, for anyone and perhaps particularly for Fultz. It had been reasonable to wonder, at points over the past few months, when news about his career came mostly in the form of clandestine horror films shot on-location wherever he happened to huck up a few breathtakingly weird-looking knuckleball-ass jumpshots, whether he would ever be that again. I doubt anyone involved in the decision to select Fultz with the first overall pick in the 2017 draft envisioned that the sight of him hucking a hilariously misbegotten layup attempt pretty much directly into Malik Beasley’s armpit would be an occasion for relief and/or ecstatic joy on March 26 of his rookie season, but that doesn’t make it less thrilling.
Back to last night:
It still looks a little weird, the shooting motion a little stiff and deliberate, like he’s thinking his way through it—Okay, hold it, hold it, now extend the right arm, flick the wrist, don’t punch yourself in the face, DON’T punch yourself in the face. The mechanics are a little wobbly, if you care to nitpick. Hold your follow-through, Markelle! But there he is, cruising left and pulling up for that foul-line shot he’s been practicing in a handful of those viral videos, and dropping it in, after a high bounce I feel confident guessing felt like it lasted six hours to the people most intimately invested in its outcome.
Ben Simmons missed his entire rookie season with a foot injury; Joel Embiid missed his first two seasons with a host of injuries; Blake Griffin missed his rookie season with a fractured kneecap. Fultz’s shooting problems have seemed a lot less medically severe, and, in part for that reason, weirder and more tragic, than what befell those three. It seemed like he really might be remembered as The Lottery Pick Who Forgot How To Play Basketball Forever. I suppose he still could, but it seems a lot less likely now. He knows how to drive to his left and pull-up for a foul line jumper, among other things.
It was a Moment. It was also two regular ol’ points in an NBA game. That’s a lot. Dwyane Wade’s shot sometimes looks a little goofy, too. For that matter, Lonzo Ball shoots like his elbows were mounted sideways in his arms, and that hasn’t been a topic of real consternation in months. If the saga of Markelle Fultz’s jumpshot hasn’t quite come to an end, you can at least hope it has come to a better beginning.