Markelle Fultz's absence was one of the oddest storylines of the NBA season, but with the first overall pick now back, the team looks poised for a playoff run.
It's been a strange year for Markelle Fultz and the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sixers traded up to take Fultz with the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft — a signal to the rest of the league that the team had completed the "process" and were ready to push its chips to the center of the table and begin the next chapter of their franchise.
Then, after an awkward start to the year, Fultz was ruled out with a mysterious injury tied to a change in his shooting motion, missing 68 games of the season. In his absence, videos emerged that showed Fultz had seemingly forgotten how to shoot, with fans breaking down film for any signs of improvement.
It felt up in the air for a while, but things worked out in the end — Fultz is back with the Sixers and seems to be finding his place within the team at just the right time. He's proven to be a spark off of the bench for the Sixers, and on Wednesday night became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double, going for 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in just 25 minutes of work in the Sixers' season finale against the Bucks.
While it was an oddity looming over the Sixers season, with the team now entering the postseason, Fultz's extended absence could benefit Philadelphia in some surprising ways.
First, Fultz's shortened season means that he never really hit the oft-dreaded "rookie wall" that can stifle the play of young players who are just getting used to the grind and travel of a full NBA schedule. Instead, Fultz got a taste of regular NBA play through the final ten games of the Sixers season and will head into the slower pace of the postseason already on relatively fresh legs.
Additionally, Fultz is still a mystery to the teams the Sixers will be facing in the playoffs. When playing the same opponent as many as seven times in a row, it can prove challenging to surprise your opponent. Fultz gives the Sixers an X-factor of sorts, that can come in and provide a change of pace, should Philadelphia find themselves in a tight spot at points.
Fultz's return to the court was not without its struggles. His jump shot still needs work the further away he gets from the basket, and being a part of the collision that sent Joel Embiid off to surgery was indeed not a great look for his second game back with the team. But heading into the postseason, Fultz is in the perfect spot to help the Sixers.