Alford: Too early to call Markelle Fultz a bust

Philadelphia 76ers NBA Markelle Fultz

Bust. It is a term often used to describe an immensely talented team-sport athlete who is drafted with a high pick but falls short of the expectations laid upon him.

If you look up the word in the dictionary, you might see pictures of Kwame Brown, Greg Oden, Michael Olowokandi, and Anthony Bennett.

Along those same lines, this term has now become synonymous with former NBA No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz.

The Philadelphia 76ers traded Fultz on Thursday to the Orlando Magic for Jonathon Simmons, a first-round pick and a second-round pick. It was not an overwhelmingly great return for the Sixers, but it was clear that they were ready to turn the page on the short-lived Fultz era.

How did we get to this point? How can the Sixers trade their second top draft selection in as many seasons for mere role players and draft assets?

Is it because they are in win-now mode and believe they have a shot to make it to the NBA Finals this season? Or was he on the wrong team, stuck in an organization that did not allow his talents to shine?

All of these questions are warranted and will be answered in due course.

Nevertheless, when considering the curious case of Markelle Fultz, one wonders what could have been.

Everybody remembers how he played at the University of Washington a couple of years ago as a freshman for an underwhelming squad.

He was an immensely talented combo guard with a smooth spin move that left observers in awe every time he drove into the lane. He was compared to reigning NBA MVP James Harden because of his playmaking and shotmaking abilities.

It was clear he was the number one pick at that time, despite a draft class which had Jayson Tatum, Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, Kyle Kuzma, and Donovan Mitchell.

Then the 2017 NBA Draft came. The Sixers traded up from No. 3 to No. 1, which was notable enough, but what’s more is that they traded with their arch-rivals, the Boston Celtics, to take Fultz.

Sure, the Celtics got Tatum and had a right to feel good about their selection, but in Philadelphia, who cared? At that moment, it seemed this was a match made in heaven for “The Process.” The Sixers finally had their backcourt of the future with Ben Simmons and Fultz.

Then things continued to look promising in the NBA Summer League. Fultz put on a show in Salt Lake City. He showed off his electric spin move and pulled up for 3-pointers with ease.

However, for all of the promise we saw with Fultz, it came to a screeching fault when the 2017-18 season began.

There was something wrong with his jump shot. A hitch became evident every time he took a shot. The mechanics looked uncomfortable. More importantly, Fultz looked uncomfortable.

The 6-foot-4 combo guard missed a majority of his rookie campaign with scapular muscle imbalance, which affects the shoulder. Fultz eventually made his way back onto the hardwood, playing late in that season and ending his rookie year with a triple-double. Yet, that was short-lived, too: The young point guard still could not find his groove.

This season, Fultz has played in only 19 games. He went to see a shoulder specialist in November. The next month, he was diagnosed with TOS, or thoracic outlet syndrome, which has plagued other basketball players such as Landry Fields and Ben Uzoh.

Could the TOS diagnosis explain Fultz’s awkward shooting motion and NBA struggles? Without a shadow of a doubt. It is not often that a basketball player with his skill set goes from being a starting NBA point guard to a possible bust.

Not many people understand the pressures of being a No. 1 draft pick and everything that comes with it.

With that being said, it is still too early to call Fultz a bust. While he might not have fit with the Sixers, maybe he will have his “come to Jesus” moment in Orlando.

If he can figure things out with the help of Magic head coach Steve Clifford and make it through one of the toughest roadblocks of his career, I have no doubt that he will become one of the better players in the Association.

This story is far from over.