Dan Feldman

Markelle Fultz: Free-throw form temporary, result of shoulder injury

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DETROIT – I spent the day wondering the best way to ask No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz about his suddenly deformed shooting stroke. I wanted to be respectful and empathetic and mostly just not blurt out, “What’s wrong with you?”

After answering a few questions about his shot, Fultz himself brought up that he’s aware of all the “rumors” about his free throws. Sounding comfortable and confident – working against a popular theory that he has the yips – Fultz explained a shoulder injury is still hindering him. As soon as his shoulder heals, he’ll return to the form he used at Washington, where he made 65% of his free throws.

“I do what I’ve got to do to get the ball on the rim,” said Fultz, who’s 6-of-12 from the line this season (50%).

Fultz was less direct about his jumper.

He can shoot 3-pointers right now, he insists. But after attempting more than five per game in college, he has taken no shots from at least 15 feet – let alone beyond the arc – in 76 NBA minutes.

Though he professed confidence in his open jumper, even his close-range jumpers are a mess. He’s 3-of-16 from outside five feet, and shooting just 33% overall.

More jarring are the shots he isn’t taking. A smooth mid-range operator and aggressive shot hunter at Washington, Fultz looks like a shell of himself. He sometimes drives, mostly to set up teammates, and he sets screens. But his biggest strengths have been neutered.

As a result, defenses can sag off him, and the 76ers’ offense has crated with him on the court. They’ve scored a woeful 80.4 points per 100 possessions when he plays. Rotations aren’t to blame, either. No matter which teammate Fultz is paired with, during the duo’s minutes together, Philadelphia has scored at what would have been a league-worst rate last season.

Yet, the 1-3 76ers continue to play Fultz at least a third of each game. They’re trying to win for the first time since The Process began, but they also have young talent like Fultz to groom.

“There’s no book that tells you how to combine win and develop,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “They are very mutually exclusive.

“Normally, the link is you’ve got to play them and you’ve got to live with some stuff.”

Fultz said he isn’t worried about developing bad habits while shooting through his shoulder injury. Neither is Brown, who has consulted with medical personnel.

“Nobody has any fears,” Brown said. “…You don’t just walk a certain way for a long period of your life and all of a sudden start to limp.”

But it’s not so easy to dispel doubt for several reasons:

  • As the No. 1 pick, Fultz receives outsized attention. Even coming off the bench to begin his career, joining the ranks of Anthony Bennett and Andrea Bargnani, immediately generated pessimism.
  • Because the Celtics traded the No. 1 pick while Fultz was the consensus choice, many Boston fans are openly rooting for Fultz to fail. Not because they hold any specific ill will toward him, but just because they want their team to be right.
  • Point guards drafted after Fultz – Lonzo Ball, De'Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr. – are off to much better starts to their careers.
  • Teammates Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who had a triple-double in his fourth game, are balling. Fultz is the weak link of Philadelphia’s young three-headed core.
  • Fultz, against the 76ers’ wishes, reworked his jumper over the offseason. That’s what makes it so hard to completely discount the possibility of a larger mental block.

So, the articles of concern are rolling in. Jokes are being cracked about his Shaq-esque free throws. More serious people are actually fretting about his long-term value.

Brown’s advice to Fultz is simple: “This is not going to define you.” The coach wants Fultz to focus on everything but his jumper – defense, running the offense, getting to his spots in the pick-and-roll.

“At the end of the day, I know what I can do,” Fultz said. “My teammates know what I can do. My coaches know what I can do.”

Maybe someday soon, he’ll get to show it.

Lawrence Frank: DeAndre Jordan is a Clipper for life

Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images
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Clippers president Lawrence Frank called Blake GriffinClipper Royalty,” and a few days later, the Clippers gave Griffin a five-year max contract.

So, it jumps out when Lawrence Frank puts DeAndre Jordan in similar company.

Frank, via Elliott Teaford of The Orange County Register:

We look at Blake and D.J. (DeAndre Jordan) as Clippers for life. We wanted to continue to build around Blake and D.J.

Jordan is eligible for a contract extension that could start next season at up to $27,170,820 and be worth up to $121,725,274 over four years. Or he could wait until next summer’s free agency, when his max starting salary projects to be $35 million, which would carry a five-year max of $205 million if he re-signs or a four-year max of $152 million if he signs elsewhere. Or he could exercise his $24,119,025 2017-18 option and hit free agency the following summer.

The 29-year-old Jordan faces some important choices ahead. This could be his last big payday.

He’s an elite rebounder and finisher, and long an impactful defender due to his physical tools, Jordan has significantly improved his defensive awareness. But it’s a tightening market, especially for traditional centers. He’s not a clear max player next summer.

If the Clippers are as willing to commit financially to him as Frank sounds, Jordan should probably take them up on it.

Joel Embiid: Andre Drummond ‘doesn’t play any defense’

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
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Joel Embiid is going after Eastern Conference centers.

First, Hassan Whiteside. Now, Andre Drummond.

Embiid, via Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

“Defensively, he doesn’t play any defense,” Embiid said of what he saw. “When we started the game, he was being aggressive and he was talking, too. … So what I was like [in my mind] ‘You want to do that? I’m going to kick your [butt] then. So that’s what I did.”

“In my mind, I was like, ‘You want to switch up, because you are playing against me,’ ” he said of Drummond. ” ‘You want to be all physical and talk [trash].’ So I was like, ‘you are going to get our [butt beat].’ I love that.”

Embiid (31 points on 11-of-15 shooting and nine rebounds) thoroughly outplayed Drummond in the 76ers’ 97-86 win over the Pistons last night, though Drummond (14 points and 14 rebounds with four steals) was still impactful. Most importantly, Philadelphia outscored Detroit by 21 in the 28 minutes the centers shared the court.

Embiid is trying to establish himself, so that means taking it to a former All-Star like Drummond – apparently during the game and after. Embiid is nothing if not relentless.

Referee breaks up Rockets pass in crunch time (video)

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A lot went wrong late for the Rockets, who surrendered a 20-2 run to close a 98-90 loss to the Grizzlies last night.

But this was probably the most infuriating moment for Houston.

Referee Karl Lane stepped between a pass from James Harden to Eric Gordon and deflected the ball out of bounds, resulting in a turnover.

That was the right call after Lane’s initial miscue, but he clearly crept in too far. Referees have to know that the Rockets space the floor by spotting up well beyond the 3-point arc.

Nikola Jokic bumps Wizards coach Scott Brooks (video)

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Wizards were clinging to a two-point lead with 32 seconds left when Nikola Jokic, arguably the NBA’s best-passing center, had an assist.

To Washington. During a timeout.

While walking to his bench during a stoppage, Jokic bumped Wizards coach Scott Brooks. Brooks immediately stormed to a referee, who called a technical foul on Jokic. Washington made the free throw and pulled away for a 109-104 win.

The incident, via NBC Sports Washington:

Jokic, via Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington:

“I’m sorry because I put my team in a bad position,” Jokic said.

Jokic’s excuse was that he was trying to look at the score.

Brooks, via Hughes:

“It was an awkward, weird situation. I don’t think he did it on purpose but it happened,” Brooks said. “I moved on and the referee had to do what he had to do and move on. But I never had that happened before.”

These minor bumps as a dozen people cross paths aren’t totally uncommon.

Was this one more forceful than usual? Hard to tell.

The only thing clearly extra was Brooks’ swift reaction. Justified or not, he turned this into something bigger – and an advantage for his team.