On Friday evening, ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Marc Stein and The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke through the wall of pre-draft misinformation and posturing to deliver some legitimate news: the Sixers and Celtics are discussing a trade for the top overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
According to all three, the deal would revolve solely around draft picks -- including the Sixers number three overall pick and the Lakers unprotected 2018 pick -- and conversations have intensified enough that Fultz could be visiting Philadelphia on Saturday.
A deal that would bring Fultz to the Sixers has made sense all along, and considering how intense the talks reportedly are, it’s a move that needs to get done.
While holding the third overall pick in one of the deepest classes in recent memory is sturdy ground, there’s undoubtedly some question marks revolving around the talent that will likely be on the board when it’s their turn to select. Kansas’s Josh Jackson is well-rounded, but players who shot the ball as poorly as he did in college very rarely turn into offensive lynchpins. He’s also reportedly coming off a Lakers workout where he shot the ball rather poorly. The concerns with UCLA’s Lonzo Ball are diminished in comparison to Jackson, but he’s a poor athlete who may be unwilling to share the ball handling duties with Ben Simmons, and may not provide the Sixers with the scoring they covet. The red flags that come with selecting either player are evident, and if the pieces don’t fit as anticipated, it would certainly corrupt the progress of The Process.
The primary issue with Fultz seems to be that he spent his only season of collegiate hoops playing on a bottom dwelling team.
His offensive skill set gives him the ability to take over games, and the Sixers have long sought after a player who can carry the bulk of the offense in a way that Embiid and Simmons are incapable. While he spent his entire time at Washington as their primary ball handler, playing next to Simmons shouldn’t be a real issue for him. He’ll get his touches, regardless of whether he’s the one initiating the offense or not. The sample size is small, but nearly 56 percent of his threes were assisted last season (according to Hoop-Math); Fultz has shown that moving without the ball in his hands is something he’s clearly comfortable with. Fultz will certainly have the opportunity to run the Sixers offense on plenty of occasions. He’s competent in the pick-and-roll, a willing facilitator and a capable scorer at all three levels. Having two players in the backcourt with that kind of ball handling skills gives the Sixers a level of offensive versatility that few NBA teams can match.
Defensively, Fultz has the size and length to guard both guard positions, giving the Sixers a lockdown defensive unit with Robert Covington, Simmons and Embiid that disrupt passing lanes and can easily work around switches.
Simply put, Fultz’s game fits everything the Sixers need. He’s the final piece to the process puzzle, which is why the team should be willing to sell the farm in order to acquire him.
Sam Hinkie’s decision to stockpile multiple first-round picks over the years has afforded the Sixers an ability to go in a multitude of directions in terms of roster building. In the past they’ve chosen to use those picks to build their young core, selecting players who possess franchise cornerstone potential in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. But the time to play the draft is over, and the plethora of picks accumulated over the years gives Bryan Colangelo the option to package them in order to make a trade that lands the team a superstar player.
Despite not playing a minute in the NBA, it’s obvious Markelle Fultz possesses that kind of talent. Making a trade for him could make more sense than using those selections to land a player like Paul George and Jimmy Butler. Fultz is eight years younger than both, and will be on a team friendly rookie contract that aligns very similarly to the rest of the Sixers young core. Having a player with that kind of skill on a cheap contract still allows the Sixers to have a ton of cap flexibility (although an extension for Joel Embiid looms in the near future).
The price to get Fultz is high despite the fact the Sixers are only moving two spots up the draft board. Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge surely won’t accept any deal unless he walks away with (what he considers) a king’s ransom. But for the first time since the start of The Process it’s okay for the Sixers to splurge. The time to assemble a competitive roster is finally here, and Fultz is everything the team has been looking to add. All parties can walk away happy here.
A deal that would bring Fultz to Philadelphia makes too much sense not to happen, and at this point all indications are that it will go through.
The years of pick stacking was always a means to an end, and the grand finale is likely going to result in a core of Fultz, Simmons and Embiid. It’s the logical conclusion to a process that was designed to have the Sixers walk away with multiple superstars, and as of right now it finally looks like that will come to fruition.