Markelle Fultz is the presumptive number one pick in the 2017 NBA Draft among the experts. Although they're very fun to watch, don’t be fooled by the Lonzo Ball / Josh Jackson #1 talk. Pretty much every major Draft analyst has Fultz in a tier of his own (and for good reason). However, Fultz doesn’t seem to be getting the type of hype that other recent number one prospects like Ben Simmons / Andrew Wiggins got, despite being the best PG prospect I’ve seen since closely following the Draft (more on that later). There are a few reasons for this lack of hype relative to those guys:
Some of the more hyped guys recently such as Simmons/Wiggins were elite prospects for years going back to high school. They both got “Next LeBron” hype that thrust them onto the national radar in a way that Fultz didn’t. Markelle, on the other hand, was a very late bloomer. As a sophomore, he did not make the varsity team of his high school. Since his recruitment, he also physically grew. He’s filled out his body and has grown from 6’2” to 6’5”. By the very end of high school, Fultz established himself as a top recruit but it took a while. It was only really a couple of very impressive shoe camp performances this Summer that put him in the #1 prospect radar.
His choice to go to Washington. Fultz’s college team is flat out terrible. Not only are they an unimpressive 9-9 against sub par out of conference competition, but they’ve looked even worse than that record indicates. The defense is worse that you think no matter how bad you’re imagining, and the offense often stagnates. Watching the first half of their game against Gonzaga made me want to gouge my eyes out. 300 lb Przemek Karnowski was beating their whole team down the floor. This may sound familiar to Ben Simmons’ situation last season. While it is similar in some ways, Simmons’ LSU was still getting constant ESPN coverage while it can be legitimately difficult to watch Markelle Fultz to this point unless you have the Pac 12 network. He’ll have huge games that don’t even have highlight videos. Overall Markelle’s situation hasn’t been conducive at all for hype.
It’s early in the Draft process. Although Fultz will have a shorter season than most top prospects because his team is unlikely to make it into the tournament, conference play has just begun. Fultz will have many more high profile games to show the nation his talents, including two head to head matchups against UCLA’s Lonzo Ball. His hype is sure to grow even after the season is over as well, as the NBA Draft approaches.
My breakdown of Markelle Fultz the prospect: (why you should be hyped)
Markelle Fultz has an elite frame. At 6’5” with a 6’10” wingspan he’s literally the perfect PG in that regard. Not only that but he’s still very young at only 18 years old so you can expect major improvement in the coming years. This size means that defensively he could guard SGs as well and switch onto SFs in a pinch. Offensively it allows him to pass over smaller PGs, is incredibly helpful for finishing at the rim, and it opens up the possibility of a post up game (although he hasn’t shown much of that yet).
Markelle Fultz is somewhere between a very good and elite athlete. He’s got a smoothness to how he moves that reminds me of McCollum, but he also is good for an impressive chase down block/head near the rim dunk / athletic finish pretty much every game that makes you realize he’s quite different from the average smooth athlete in that regard.
Basic Box Score Stats: Markelle Fultz is putting up an absurd 23/6/6 on 49/40/68 splits. He’s the only prospect in the country (any year) averaging 20/5/5 on 50 2pt%, and 40. 3pt%.
This is Fultz’s most impressive area. I highly suggest watching these highlight videos from his last two games to get a feel for how he scores / how he looks doing it.
Markelle Fultz vs Colorado / 1.18.17 / 37 Pts, 8 Ast, 5 Reb Markelle Fultz vs Stanford / 1.14.17 / 34 Pts, 7 Reb
As you can see he’s pretty much everything you want from a scoring PG. He can shoot off the dribble out to the 3pt line. He can get to the rim and finish there. He can run the pick and roll like a vet. If he has to, he can save a possession with an iso. His FT rate is elite for a PG (8 FTA per game). He really is the total package when it comes to scoring the ball. His 57 TS% doesn’t fully capture how impressive he’s been, as the shots he takes are very difficult due to an often incompetent Washington offense and being the only real threat on the team that opposing teams need to focus on.
Known as a streaky shooter prior to this year, this season has been very encouraging for Fultz. His stroke looks good and he’s shooting 40% from three on difficult attempts, and very well from mid-range as well. Slightly worrying is his 68 FT%, which is below what you’d expect considering how his shot looks. FT% is usually a bad omen for college players who are out shooting their actual ability in that area. I would say he’s a well above-average but not the elite shooter for a PG, but his ability to shoot off the dribble could be tremendously helpful for a primary ball handler like Fultz, as Curry/Harden are showing in the NBA. Here's a great video on Markelle Fultz's pull up shooting by Mike Schmitz of Draft Express.
Running an Offense
It can be a bit hard to tell at times in Washington’s offense, but Fultz has shown an ability to both pass and score out of P&R which means the world when it comes to actually being the center of an NBA offense. He’s also shown the ability to generally find the open man. I don’t expect him to become CP3 when it comes to passing, but he’s very good when it comes to running an offense. His AST% of 35% is great and it’s the top mark in that area among all the top PGs in this class (Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith, De’Aaron Fox, etc).
His defense so far has been pretty terrible. He gets lost all the time and often doesn’t fight through screens like he should. That statement is true for just about every player on this year’s Washington Huskies. It reminds me a lot of what I saw from Ben Simmons last year at LSU. The bad situation leads to bad effort/performance. For a guy who gets James Harden comparisons because of his offense, he certainly has lived up to them so far on both ends of the court.
His defensive potential is elite. I’m not saying he’ll get there but with his size, length, and athleticism he has all the tools. He also forces turnovers well, with an elite block rate for a PG as well as a respectable steal rate. He's one of only six guards in the NCAA averaging over 1.5 STLs & 1.5 BLKs per 40. I highly doubt he'll be a good defender or anything close to it right away, but in the right system, he could certainly get there in several years.
My Overall Thoughts
I believe that Fultz is a package of skills that hasn't come around in at least a decade. Maybe Irving was just as impressive a scorer but he can't run an offense like Fultz and he doesn't have Fultz's frame which will help defensively. John Wall and Derrick Rose were more athletic than Fultz but neither had Fultz's ability to shoot off the dribble. I can't say a bad thing about Chris Paul but he certainly didn't have Fultz’s size. Overall, despite some of his current deficiencies (most of which I believe are fixable or system related), I think Fultz is as sure fire an All-Star as any prospect the past few years and deserves at least the amount of hype that Simmons / Wiggins got. Whoever gets the number one pick (unfortunately not my Sixers with the recent winning) should be absolutely thrilled.