No, not again.
That’s how fans reacted after seeing Markelle Fultz leave the Philadelphia 76ers 2017 Summer League game against the Golden State Warriors last week.
Fultz , the Sixers #1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, rolled his ankle after stepping on the foot of Warriors’ rookie Jabari Brown in the third quarter of the 76ers 95-93 win over Golden State. The University of Washington standout remained on the court for quite a period of time before being helped to the locker room by his teammates.
The Sixers breathed a sigh of relief after Fultz’s x-rays came back negative. The prized rookie suffered a lateral ankle sprain which is expected to heal in a week or two. Despite that, the Sixers’ management decided to shut Fultz down for the remainder of the summer league tournament.
You can’t blame the Sixers for taking extra caution. That’s because this isn’t the first time that a Sixers’ first round draft pick has been injured before playing his first regular season game. In fact, Philadelphia’s top rookies in the previous four seasons have missed a considerable number of games during their rookie seasons because of some injury. This series of misfortunes have made fans and players wonder if the Sixers, especially their top rookie picks, are cursed.
Curse of Philly?
Winning has been scarce in the city of brotherly love in the last four season. During this period, the Sixers set a couple of ignominious NBA records. First they became the first team since the 1995 Grizzlies to win fewer than 20 games in three consecutive seasons. The Sixers also finished the 2016 regular season with the second worst record in the NBA’s 82 game regular season history. The team’s 10-72 record was one victory better than the ( guess who? ) 1973 Sixers who won an NBA worst 9 regular season games.
Just how bad has the losing been in Philly? The Sixers have won just a total of 75 games in the last four seasons. In contrast, the mighty Golden State Warriors won a total of 73 games during the 2016 season alone. However, the Sixers showed some life last season by winning a four year high of 28 games. Still that season wasn’t devoid of injury. Sixers’ big man Joel Embiid missed 54 games due to a nagging knee injury. Embiid’s injury woes were a part of what some call the Curse of Philly, which has hit the team’s top rookies since 2013.
When the Sixers traded for Nerlens Noel’s draft rights in 2013, they already knew what they were getting. Noel was one of the best college players in the nation while playing for the University of Kentucky. But the 6-11 big man tore his ACL during his first college season. Despite that, he was picked #6 overall in the 2013 Draft by the New Orleans Pelicans before being traded to the Sixers.
But while Noel was already ‘damaged goods’ when he arrived in Philadelphia, his injury was expected to heal in six to eight months time, making him eligible for return in the middle part of his rookie season. At first, team doctors announced that Noel’s recovery was ahead of the time table. Later, they announced that he would miss the entire season. That was the beginning of the curse.
History Repeated Itself
History repeated itself the following season. Like the previous year, the Sixers took a gamble by drafting Joel Embiid with the 3rd pick in the 2014 NBA Draft despite the fact that the Cameroonian center despite watching him suffer a foot injury during pre-draft workouts. Prior to that, Embiid had several issues with his back while starring for the Kansas City Jayhawks in the NCAA.
But Embiid wasn’t also expected to miss his entire rookie season. Following surgery to repair the stress fracture on his foot, Embiid was expected to miss just six months and return in mid-season. But like Nerlens Noel, his injury didn’t heal as expected and he missed his entire rookie season. Worse, Embiid also missed the following season with a second surgery on his right foot.
Despite Embiid missing his second straight season, the Sixers had high hopes during the 2015 season after picking Jahlil Okafor with the 3rd overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft and playing Nerlens Noel for the first time. Although Okafor wasn’t as highly touted as Embiid and Noel, he was one of the top prospects in the pool and yes, he didn’t arrive in Philadelphia with an injury tag.
But while Okafor started his rookie season playing on the floor, his first year in the NBA was filled with mishaps outside the basketball court. Despite the controversies , Jahlil Okafor was turning in a good first year before suffering shin contusion in February 2016. The injury was supposed to sideline him for only a game or two. But after a CT scan revealed a small meniscus tear in his right knee, Jahlil Okafor was shut down for the rest of the season. In all, Okafor missed 29 games of his rookie season. Not the season injury of Noel and Embiid, but he still missed a significant amount of games.
Winning The Lottery
While the injury bug continued to hound the Sixers’ rookies, the franchise won the 2016 draft lottery and had the privilege of drafting Ben Simmons with the first pick of the draft. The Melbourne, Australia native had an impressive one and done season with LSU. Simmons averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists during his freshman season. Even before playing his first collegiate game, Simmons drew comparisons to LeBron James for his once-in-a-lifetime skillset.
Simmons’ arrival, Nerlens Noel’s improvement, coupled with the return of Okafor plus Embiid finally playing his first NBA game gave the Sixers plenty of reasons to be excited about during the 2017 season. But as fate would have it, Simmons suffered a leg injury in his first Summer League game. The Sixers initially said he would play in January 2017 but later on announced that he would miss his entire rookie season. Embiid did make his NBA debut and was sensational when he was on the court. Unfortunately, he too wasn’t healthy all season long.
FEDS are Coming
Enter 2017 and the Sixers traded up to draft Markelle Fultz at number one.Noel was already traded in midseason 2017 but the Sixers are expected to parade Embiid, Simmons and Okafor to start the upcoming season. Add Markelle Fultz and the improving Dario Saric and the Sixers are now called the FEDS, according to Embiid himself. FEDS stands for Fultz, Embiid, Dario ( for Saric ) and Simmons. Fultz said after the draft that he believes the Sixers are going to make the playoffs.
That claim was further bolstered when Philadelphia signed sharpshooter J.J. Redick from the Clippers and big man Amir Johnson from the Boston Celtics. These two veteran acquisitions are expected to help the young guns push the Sixers back in the NBA postseason for the first time since 2012. With the current line-up that they have, the Sixers do have a legitimate shot at having their first winning season since 2005. But they have to be healthy.
Dodging A Bullet
The Sixers may have dodged a bullet with Markelle Fultz’s injury not considered serious. But keep your fingers crossed folks because it’s still many months before the regular season begins. And we also know that starting the regular season isn’t a guarantee that one is going to finish it on the court. Knowing the Sixers recent history, everybody fan in Philadelphia is holding his breath right now.
The 52 year curse of Cleveland was already broken in 2016 when the Cavs won their first ever NBA title. Let’s hope Markelle Fultz also broke the curse of Philly, if there’s any, by returning healthy for the training camp. We saw Fultz take a couple of dribbles a day after the injury and he looked fine. That was a good sign. It will be exciting to see him play with the other young stars in that team when the 2018 season begins. It will indeed be an exciting season in Philadelphia.
Break a leg young fellas, but not literally.
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