BOSTON — Markelle Fultz's expected return to the 76ers lineup will be determined by more than his health. He has to convince coach Brett Brown that his three-point and foul shooting has improved.
"We are all going to go to the free-throw line and say, 'Does it sort of pass the eye test?' " Brown said Thursday night. "He's not there, yet. Everything is moving forward. But it's not anything we are going to rush."
The combo guard has been sidelined since Oct. 25 with what was later diagnosed as scapular muscle imbalance in his right shoulder. Fultz had a tough time raising his arm, which was easy to notice when he was shooting three-pointers and foul shots.
The release point of Fultz's shot was above his head at Washington and during the Utah Jazz Summer League in July. But he was pushing the ball from in front of his body since the start of training camp in September.
Despite being a standout three-point shooter in college, Fultz did not attempt a three-pointer in the one preseason game and four regular-season games he played with the 76ers. While there was a physical problem, there also seemed to be a confidence issue.
"There needs to be a tremendous confidence level that he has," Brown said, "and a health-related confidence that our medical people have. As far as a timeline to what that all means, we don't know."
Fultz is rehabilitating his right shoulder at the Shoulder Center at Kentucky under surgeon Ben Kibler. He arrived in Lexington on Wednesday to undergo physical therapy for a couple of days. Kibler may also examine the shoulder. Fultz is scheduled to return to the Philadelphia area later this week and to go back to Kentucky in the next week or two to have his shoulder reevaluated.
An examination Nov. 19 revealed that the muscle balance in the rookie's shoulder has improved and the soreness was dissipating, the team said at the time in a statement. Fultz was seen by Kibler, who had diagnosed scapular muscle imbalance in Fultz's first visit to the Shoulder Center on Oct. 29.
"He's going great in relation to all the practice that we've had to nurture young guys that have been injured," Brown said.
Right now, Fultz is putting a lot of time in the weight room and going over scenarios with the coaching staff in a classroom setting. He's also participating in on-court drills.