The Sixers have selected Markelle Fultz with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. No, that sentence is not a typo, and no, you are not dreaming right now. Philadelphia got the top talent in the draft once again, and has added an elite guard prospect to their exciting core.
Standing 6’4” with a near 6’10” wingspan, Fultz has the size and athleticism to guard two positions and scorer over a variety of defenders at the next level. Though he lacks elite-level burst and explosiveness, he’s no slouch in the athleticism department, and he’s a highlight waiting to happen when he gets a head of steam going.
If there’s an elite tool in his bag, it’s Fultz’s body control. Thanks to his stocky frame, defenders tend to bounce off him, and he welcomes contact on his way to the bucket. Combined with his unique handle, his fearless approach on drives helps him create separation from defenders in a variety of ways, through quick spins, hesitation moves, and pick-and-roll splits.
Fultz’s college production as a freshman was nothing short of elite. His basic stat line—23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists per game—is unprecedented in the last 25 years of Division I basketball, let alone for a freshman player. His ability to absorb contact on drives and in mid-air provides hope he can be a three-level scorer in the NBA, which would have a ripple effect on opposing defenses and open space for the teammates around him.
His free-throw percentage in college casts doubt on his outside shooting numbers, but even if he’s not an elite shooter, Fultz is an excellent shotmaker, capable of hitting off his own dribble and in catch-and-shoot situations. This makes him an ideal fit with the Sixers, as he’ll be playing with two players (Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons) who will need the ball in their hands.
Defensively, Fultz is a work in progress, but he has showed flashes of brilliance at the international level and from time-to-time in NCAA play. The hope will be once you get him out of Washington, where they played a lot of 2-3 zone, you’ll get a higher engagement level from Fultz. Regardless, if his offensive profile holds, the Sixers will be able to live with him being an average-ish defender—particularly with Embiid serving as a safety net behind him.
Our friends at the University of Washington blog UW Dawg Pound weren’t interested in slowing down the hype train after watching him play for a full season:
If Markelle Fultz doesn’t succeed in the NBA, it will be because he either couldn’t stay healthy or he’s not as good of a shooter as he was in college. And even if the shooting part is true to start off, I sure as hell wouldn’t bet against Markelle to become a knock down shooter in a few years. If anyone out there has bet against Markelle to keep getting better they’ve gone bankrupt. And the smart money is for that trend to continue at the next level.
The three-headed monster has now been assembled in Philadelphia. It’ll be up to management to find the right guys to plug-and-play around them, but the Sixers now have the pieces to be at the forefront of the league for a long, long time.
There’s a lot of work left to be done tonight and over the next few years, but savor this moment while you can, Sixers fans. As you know good and well after going through the rebuild process the last few years, these moments don’t come around all that often.