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June 22, 2017

Analyzing what type of player the Sixers are drafting in Markelle Fultz

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Ever since word leaked last Friday that the Sixers were trading up in the NBA Draft to select University of Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia’s excitement for basketball has been at a level that we haven’t seen in a long time. During Fultz Mania, for some reason I can’t help but think back to a few months ago, when nobody in Wells Fargo Center knew who he was.

I forget which Sixer I was watching warm up before that meaningless April game against the Brooklyn Nets, but I spotted Fultz sitting courtside. It was just him and a friend, also checking out warmups. Fultz was wearing a hat that covered up his haircut, but this was clearly the guy projected to go first overall in the upcoming NBA Draft, just casually sitting there in a way that, say, Lonzo Ball would not have been able to. Sitting next to Fultz and his buddy were three guys with Sixers jerseys, the type of fans who very well might attend lottery parties and chant “Trust The Process” at the top of their lungs.

They had no idea who Fultz was. Nobody really did, but he took note of his surroundings.

“Most important thing was the fans in the building were still there no matter what,” Fultz said after working out for the Sixers this weekend. “That was big. Of course being out there, I could imagine myself on the court, helping the team out for sure. That's what I do every game.”

During the pre-draft process, nobody in Philly (myself included!) wrote much about Fultz because everyone assumed the Boston Celtics were drafting him with the top overall pick. Now that everything has changed, what type of player are the Sixers actually getting? Let’s list some stuff about Markelle Fultz:

•    One of the first things brought up about Fultz is the lack of team success at Washington, which is peculiar for the top pick. In fact, there are rumors that UW’s 9-22 record played a major factor in the Celtics deciding to trade down from Fultz. And as someone who watched Washington play live more than 15 times this season, they were awful. The Huskies played with zero intensity on the defensive end, which Fultz was definitely part of. They made Ben Simmons’ LSU team look like a juggernaut.

That said, there are some potential mitigating factors to look at here. Washington lost its three best players from the 19-15 campaign the season before. Not a juggernaut by any means! Two of those guys were first-round draft picks, Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss, who Fultz expected to play with:

And Fultz, who previously played for a basketball powerhouse (DeMatha Catholic) in Maryland, won a whole lot of games as a high school player and for the United States at the international level:

I don’t know how much to weigh Fultz’s lack of team success at Washington, but he was very impressive individually. And burying the lede a little bit here, his teammates weren’t very good: bad spacing, no creation outside of Fultz, and like we already said, bad defense and coaching. As long as he comes to Philly by himself, my guess (and that is the key word) is he’ll do a little better playing with NBA spacing and talent.

•    Before he hit a growth spurt, Fultz didn’t make the varsity at DeMatha as a sophomore just like Michael Jordan. He easily could have transferred, but his mother wanted him to stick around the school for academics. Lucky coaches:

While his former coaches insist that the detour helped Fultz’s development, they also now use words like “idiots” when referencing their lack of foresight. They are just thankful the decision did not come back to haunt them.
•    If you want to learn more about Fultz’s upbringing and rise to the NBA, there were a couple of very good profiles in the Boston Globe and Washington Post. The key people to know are his mother Ebony and trainer Keith Williams. Judging from his interview after the Sixers workout, they’re still the main people advising him today.

•    In multiple settings, Fultz has utilized the term “steak with cheese.” Unacceptable.

•    Alright, let’s move to on-court matters. What made the trade surprising is that Fultz isn’t considered a particularly weak top overall pick in the Anthony Bennett mold. He’s probably not on the level of players like Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns as a prospect, but it’s not ridiculous to put him in the same tier as John Wall and Kyrie Irving at this point of their respective developments. Fultz has to catch up to those guys in the NBA, but he has a similar starting point.

•    The major reason that Fultz is a safer prospect than Ball (who I like a lot!) is that he has shown the ability to score at all three levels of the defense: three-point line, midrange, and at the rim. Despite all of the great things that Lonzo showed, he only consistently demonstrated the ability to create threes from himself at UCLA.

•    Let’s talk about Fultz’s shooting, which shows a lot of potential but might more of a mixed bag than some seem to indicate. Fultz shot 52-126 from three at Washington (41 percent), which is especially impressive because a lot of those were tough shots. Unlike Lonzo, he only took ten NBA threes and only managed a disappointing 65 percent from the line. Fultz’s jumper isn’t nearly as concerning as Josh Jackson’s, but his mechanics could be more consistent and a touch faster.

My guess is that Fultz will eventually become an average to above-average three-point shooter in the NBA. It just might take a few years, which means there will likely be growing pains along with Ben Simmons.

•    Fultz’s ability to also get his own shot in both the midrange and at the rim is impressive. His release can be a little slow, but Fultz’s ball-handling allows him to create space and his wingspan allows him to comfortably rise up and fire over contesting defenders. Per Draft Express, he made 42% of his pull-up jumpers on the season, with a 1.02 PPP ranking that was second-best among draft prospects.

•    In terms of quickness and athleticism at the rim, Fultz is probably above average but definitely not elite in either respect. He creates space with a tight and creative handle. Fultz’s best move is the spin:

At the rim, Fultz doesn’t have the touch of Kyrie Irving (who does?) but his body control is somewhat similar to that of the Cavaliers guard.

•    Fultz’s most underrated skill is his passing. He averaged 5.9 assists to 3.2 turnovers on a team with poor spacing and overall offensive personnel. Put him on the floor with NBA shooters and his vision should translate.

•    Defensively, Fultz showed a lot of bad habits for a UW team that played a lot of passive zone. He has the tools to be at least average on that end (6’10” wingspan, 3.1 percent block rate, 2.5 percent steal rate), but Brett Brown will need him to buy in.

Again though, Fultz has every tool to be average defensively. This is good news, because he has the chance to be wayyyyy above average offensively.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann

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