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February 07, 2017

Scouting Markelle Fultz vs. Lonzo Ball and their potential fit with the Sixers

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Last Saturday, the 11th-ranked UCLA Bruins put a hurting on the Washington Huskies in what might have been any run-of-the-mill Pac-12 game. But for NBA Draft purposes, this matchup had scouts salivating.

Not only are Washington’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball the top two players in DraftExpress’ 2017 NBA mock draft, but they also play the same position. And even better, point guard is something the Sixers could use even if they have a player that can function as one in last year’s top overall pick, Ben Simmons.

Anyway, the Bruins cruised to a 107-66 win, and for one game, it felt to me like Ball (22-6-5-4) had the greater all-around impact than Fultz (26-6-5-3) even if their stat lines were fairly similar. So, should No. 2 and No. 1 flip-flop in the next mock draft? Not necessarily, because it’s very important to point out that Ball’s teammates are so much better than Fultz’s. The talent gap is pretty insane.

Anyway, we’re going to save evaluations, big boards and mock drafts for another day. Here are some general things I like and didn’t like about Fultz and Ball’s games when it comes to the Sixers fit:

Lonzo’s deep range

If you have ever seen Ball and his younger brothers play before, their shooting forms are unorthodox. The eldest, Lonzo brings the ball up from his left hip in way that has elements of Kevin Martin and Shawn Marion’s weird shooting motions. It’s not pretty.

But it goes in. Ball is shooting 43 percent from three, and man, he shoots the ball from deeeeeeeeep. Look how far behind the line this dude is:


I have some concerns of Ball getting his shot off against NBA length in 1-on-1 situations — What happens if you make him go right and sit on that left hip? — but the idea of him comfortably spacing the floor 28 feet from the hoop while Embiid and Simmons do their thing could be a lot of fun.

Fultz in pick-and-roll

Fultz has a prettier looking jumper than Ball, and he is forced to take and make a lot of contested shots. But where he has a clear edge over Lonzo is attacking in the pick-and-roll. His ability to split the pick-and-roll and knife into the heart of the defense is pretty unique:

This spin move deserves its own GIF:

So, how exactly are you defending a high ball screen with this guy and Joel Embiid?

Ball’s vision

Fultz is a very good passer and he actually has a higher assist rate than Ball because he has the ball in his hands the entire game. But Ball’s court vision is infectious. He sees everything before it happens, and because of it, simple passes and reads become dangerous:

That might not seem like much, but it adds up when Ball makes 25-35 of those passes per game. That passing culture has helped UCLA become the most efficient offense in college hoops. There may be nobody better in college hoops at the hit-ahead pass in transition than Ball. Brett Brown likes to play fast, and pairing Lonzo with Simmons could be a lot of fun.

Fultz’s off-ball effort

If you forced me to take one of two players right now in the NBA Draft, I’d go with Fultz. His ability to consistently stop on a dime and splash a jumper in a defender’s face isn’t something you see very often at the college level:

Take a look at that play again. Ball almost gets the steal because Fultz is moving so slow away from the basketball. One of the major knocks against Fultz coming up through the high school ranks was his laid-back demeanor, and I think he could improve some at moving without the basketball.

Both teams played a lot of zone in this game (so there wasn’t much to take away from their defense, a bit of a question mark for both players), and you can only move so much off the ball against a zone. It’s a small thing, but I wouldn’t mind seeing some sharper cutting from Fultz:

Ball’s 1-on-1 ability

At the college level, Ball’s strategy is genius. He has taken MoreyBall to its highest possible level, taking 93.1 percent of his shots at the rim or beyond the arc per Hoop Math. But that won’t be possible at the next level. Joel Embiid and Rudy Gobert play in the NBA! And while he is primarily responsible for UCLA’s offensive renaissance, it’s fair to say he’s sharing the floor with four excellent shooters and a center that doesn’t miss from mid-range.

He does a great job of hiding it at the college level, but you can see that Ball isn’t the type of 1-on-1 player that Fultz is. The concern is that he could struggle a bit as a primary playmaker when the athletes are better:

The good news is that in terms of the draft, I like both of these players quite a bit for the Sixers. Even if someone like Ball does have flaws, the Sixers personnel could help mitigate them and accentuate his many positives. We’ll be checking back in with these two prospects well before the mock drafts start up.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann