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Markelle Fultz: An in Depth Analysis of the Top Prospect in the 2017 NBA Draft

Touted as one of the best guard prospects in recent years, Fultz has the attention of basketball fans everywhere. So what makes him so special?

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

In a draft loaded with talented guards, Markelle Fultz sits atop nearly every mock draft. Although he may not have found much success in Washington, leading the Huskies to an abysmal 9-22 overall record, Fultz is being touted as one of the best point guard prospects in recent history. Even with his team’s lack of success, it is easy to see why basketball fans are excited to see his transition to the NBA.

Offense:

Right off the bat, many scouts are enamored by Markelle Fultz’s frame. At 6’5” with a 6’10” wingspan and strong upper body, the University of Washington guard already has the elite physical tools for an NBA point guard. Though he is not the highest flyer nor the quickest in the draft, he still brings with him a solid vertical jump and quick first step. More important than his physical gifts, Fultz’s seemingly NBA-ready skills are even more enticing.

One would be hard-pressed to find any significant shortcomings in Fultz’s overall offensive game. He is a dynamic, efficient scorer capable of finishing at the rim, pulling up from midrange, and shooting from the three point line. These skills are all bolstered by his great size, which allow him to absorb contact well and easily shoot over defenders. He is a very good passer with excellent court vision, who has proven to be very effective in pick and rolls, a staple in the NBA.

In addition to his well-rounded abilities to score and facilitate, Fultz is an extremely polished player who plays with a smoothness reminiscent of D’Angelo Russell’s. His phenomenal body control combined with his stellar athleticism and great size allow him to navigate to any part of the court with relative ease. Fultz has a high level of creativity with the ball, as demonstrated by an arsenal of go-to, crafty moves which should easily translate to the NBA along with his strong dribble.

Quite possibly the only major concern surrounding Fultz’s offense is his 65% free throw percentage. Though he has proven to be an efficient shooter, free throw percentage has often been an accurate indicator of one’s shooting ability in the NBA, for better or worse.

Defense:

A term that often comes up when discussing Markelle Fultz is “defensive potential.” It is not difficult to see why many scouts believe that he is capable of being a very good NBA defender. His elite size paired with his above-average athleticism give him all of the physical tools to be problematic for opposing guards. However, as seen in the cases of players like Russell Westbrook and Andrew Wiggins, having the right tools does not necessarily lead to stellar defense. Simply put, Fultz has been oversold on the defensive end.

To be blunt, Fultz’ defense is below average relative to many other prospects in the draft. He constantly showed a lack of effort on that end of the floor throughout the season. His closeouts are often lazy and he would fail to fight over screens. He would frequently lose his man off ball, which would lead to him getting beat on backdoor cuts. Even when he was engaged defensively, he had trouble containing the dribble. While some people give him a pass considering how poor the Huskies were as a team on both ends of the court, one would still like to see a more consistent effort from him. Nevertheless, Fultz’s defensive shortcomings do not significantly detract from his overall appeal, which is a problem many top prospects in recent years have faced.

Player Comparison:

Two players immediately come to mind when watching Markelle Fultz play: D’Angelo Russell and James Harden. Although Fultz is more athletic than Russell, both play with a certain smoothness that cause people to question their intensity. Both players’ laid back and fluid demeanor brings about criticism that they “don’t care” when playing. The concerns about Fultz’s drive are legitimate. He certainly takes plays off and he was never too troubled by Washington’s struggles. It was clear that being the best prospect was his priority in college. Still, his play style should not be a reason for concern. You can tell by watching him that the game comes easily to him. He flows with the game in such an organic manner than he never seems out of control.

With regards to the James Harden comparison, Fultz is able to drive into the lane with ease while being a threat every step of the way. Although he does not have the ability to draw contact like Harden (nobody does), he can pass out of the drive, finish strong, and also pull up a quick jumper. Fultz and Harden are also comparable athletically. Neither will wow you with Blake Griffin-esque posters, but both still have bursts of athleticism that remind you just how dangerous they are.

Fit with the Celtics:

The Celtics are in a unique position. They are the reigning No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, yet they landed the first pick in the draft (thanks, Billy King!). Their roster is deep with quality players at most positions, several of which are nearing the ends of their contracts. They have enough cap room to improve their team with significant signings during the offseason, as well as the assets to make blockbuster trades. In other words, there is no telling what Boston’s roster will look like in the coming years.

While the Celtics are in a very good position moving forward, they may be a less than ideal landing spot for any rookie. In fact, prior to the lottery, reports claimed that agents were reluctant to allow their prospects to participate in individual workouts for the Celtics as there were concerns over the stability of Boston’s situation.

These concerns are undoubtedly applicable to Markelle Fultz, because the Celtics are loaded with talent in the backcourt. Isaiah Thomas, a ball dominant point guard, is undeniably their most valuable player, and his partner in crime and defensive specialist, Avery Bradley, is an ideal fit next to him given Thomas’ defensive shortcomings. If the Celtics believe they are currently contenders, it would be a difficult decision to immediately start Fultz, who would almost certainly start on any other team in the lottery.

From the Celtics’ point of view, the benefit of drafting Markelle Fultz is clear. He is a safe pick who can immediately help the team with his scoring, and his skill set seamlessly fits into their five-out, pace and space offense. While the team already has a number of quality veteran players, they also have several youngsters like Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, as well as another lottery pick in next year’s draft.

Ultimately, there is no telling what can happen with the Celtics. Will they commit to contending in the East, hoping to topple LeBron’s reign? Or will they simply wait out The King, thus prioritizing player development and not re-signing their current best players? While this may not be the best landing spot for Fultz in terms of immediate playing time, he will also have the benefit of playing for a top-tier coach who will certainly know how to utilize and improve his abilities on the defensive end.

Concluding Thoughts:

It is easy to see why teams have fallen in love with Markelle Fultz. He is a remarkably gifted player who has the potential to immediately impact the game with his combination of creating, scoring, and facilitating. He has very few, if any, weaknesses on the offensive end, and his game is incredibly polished for only having played in college for one year. At the same time, it appears that he is being oversold for certain skills that he does not currently have.

Several scouting reports claim that he has elite athleticism. While he has a very good vertical and a quick first step, he needs to work on his lateral speed and overall explosiveness. Furthermore, he is being praised for having great “defensive potential,” a sentiment that holds very little weight considering the subpar defense he displayed throughout college.

Nearly every prospect has shortcomings in their game, and while Fultz certainly has his weaknesses, none of them are major red flags. He is undeniably one of the most promising point guard talents to come out of college in recent years. Overall, Markelle Fultz is a phenomenal prospect with skills that should allow for him to very easily make the jump to the NBA.