by Kyle Flynn
In a year where rookies like Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell have taken over the spotlight by helping to carry their respective teams to the playoffs with sensational play, one rookie’s impact may stand above them all.
The Philadelphia 76ers will have a chance to make a deep run in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, and the number one overall pick in the 2017 draft, Markelle Fultz will undoubtedly be the X-Factor if they want to play for an NBA championship.
Fultz became one of the most bizarre storylines of the early NBA season when his shooting mechanics underwent an abnormal change to accommodate for soreness in his right shoulder. He lowered his release and started awkwardly launching the ball toward the rim from below his chin.
His shoulder problems have played a pivotal role in his on-court struggles in the early going, causing him to shoot nine of 27 from the floor and 50 percent from the free-throw line, while avoiding a single three-point attempt through the first four games of his career.
In his lone year at Washington, Fultz averaged over 23 points per game, shooting 41 percent from the three-point line in the process, so it is safe to assume he was a stranger to these types of struggles.
Needless to say, Markelle Fultz is slowly but surely getting back to his old self, and just at the right time. Since his return to the lineup on March 26, Philadelphia has not lost a game.
“It went exactly like I planned,” Fultz said of his return. “My teammates, my coaches, the front office, they’ve stuck with me since day one. Believing in me and working with me every day, I give [credit] to all to them.”
The 76ers became the first team in league history to finish the season winning 16 straight games, 10 of which Fultz participated in, as he gets a heavier load of minutes and becomes more comfortable each night.
In roughly 19 minutes per game, Fultz is scoring nearly eight points and dishing out eight assists. It might not seem like much of an impact, but he is a special talent that is only going to continue to improve his game.
Although he is still not shooting well from the free throw line, he is making 45 percent of his shots from the field, and even attempted his first career three-pointer along the way (0-1, yet still one more try than teammate Ben Simmons this season).
Fultz has reached double digits in scoring through half of his games played and finished the final game of the regular season with his first career triple-double (13 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds). At only 19 years and 317 days old, he became the youngest player to reach such a feat in NBA history.
His contributions off the bench have changed the dynamic of this year’s Sixers team, who have won 52 games and clinched themselves the third seed in the East and a round-one match-up with the Miami Heat.
If the Sixers end up making it through LeBron James and the rest of their Eastern Conference foes, they will be able to mark his return as a date to remember in their franchise history, as he will surely be the key that his team needs to do so.