Jimmy Butler Says Markelle Fultz 'Has My Respect' as Long as He Plays Hard

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistNovember 13, 2018

MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 12: Markelle Fultz #20 of the Philadelphia 76ers handles the ball against the Miami Heat on November 12, 2018 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

The newest member of the Philadelphia 76ers, Jimmy Butler, was asked during his introductory press conference with the team about his opinion on second-year player Markelle Fultz and his struggles early in his career.

Butler said he thought Fultz's struggles were mental in nature, but added that he believes in the young player and his work ethic:

Tim Bontemps @TimBontemps

Jimmy Butler on Markelle Fultz: "As long as he’s going hard and working every day, he has my respect ... I know he’s just gonna thrive. He’s going to be successful." Butler says he has mutual friends in LA during the summer who know how hard Fultz works to get better.

Fultz remains one of the biggest question marks for the Sixers and one of the more bizarre stories in recent memory. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft after the Sixers traded the No. 3 pick and Sacramento's 2019 first-rounder (which only stays with Philadelphia if it ends up being No. 1 overall) to land him.

The idea was that Fultz would offer the Sixers a perimeter threat, capable of both playing off the ball and generating offense from the pick-and-roll like he did to great success at Washington, where he was an excellent shooter and finisher. He was supposed to be the final piece for Philadelphia's young core, and the ideal fit next to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

But either due to a shoulder injury, an offseason change in shooting mechanics or both, Fultz came into training camp ahead of his rookie season with a major hitch in his shot. He ultimately played in just 14 games and only attempted one shot from beyond the arc, missing it. He also shot just 47.6 percent from the free-throw line.

Over the offseason, Fultz worked with trainer Drew Hanlen on his shot mechanics, and his form coming into this season appeared improved and his hitch gone. While he remains reluctant to shoot from beyond the arc, Fultz has been somewhat better from the charity stripe (57.6 percent), more aggressive attacking the basket and regularly shoots mid-range jumpers from the top of the key out of the pick-and-roll. 

But a report from Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype also noted that Fultz was no longer working with Hanlen: 

Alex Kennedy @AlexKennedyNBA

Markelle Fultz and Drew Hanlen are no longer working together or on speaking terms, according to league sources. No word on why the two parted ways, but their relationship deteriorated about three weeks ago. Prior to this falling out, Fultz spent the summer training with Hanlen.

And in Monday night's win over the Miami Heat, the hitch appeared to return on his shot: 

Kyle Neubeck @KyleNeubeck

This is worse than we have ever seen Fultz's free throw form look. https://t.co/FhCYpNpd5b

Fultz denied that the hitch is back, however.

"I mean, the ball slipped out of my hand, so I had to do what I had to do," he said, per Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com. "But I'm not really worried about it. I work on my game. The ball just happened to slip. That's what happened."

Regardless, Fultz's continued struggles with his perimeter shooting—once a strength of his game—made him a questionable fit in the starting lineup next to Embiid and Simmons even before the addition of Butler. Given those concerns—and the fact that Butler can create offense for himself, filling that major need for the Sixers—it's hard to imagine Fultz remaining in the starting lineup.

Instead, he's likely to lead the second unit, although the Sixers do stagger minutes, so he'll still see playing time with players like Embiid, Simmons and Butler. It may be a chance for Fultz to perform out of the spotlight and under less pressure, with the ability to operate as a playmaker as the point guard. But if Fultz's shot continues to be a weakness, his upside will continue to be severely limited.

And in turn, his future in Philadelphia will remain murky.