Lonzo Ball? The guard with Magic Johnson-like vision and a father like Don King. Josh Jackson? He has the highest upside on both ends of the floor. De’Aaron Fox? He has the potential and the personality to be a leading man for a franchise. These are the names and narratives surrounding some of the most talked about players of the 2017 NBA draft. There is only one issue: none of them were the consensus number one pick leading up to draft night.
Markelle Fultz didn’t have his father bombastically claim he was already better than Stephen Curry. He didn’t play for a prominent college program that would naturally promote his profile like some of the other top ten prospects. Living in the shadows of players drafted after him is unusual for a number one pick. A case can be made however that he’s in the perfect position to flourish.
The 19-year old Fultz was viewed as an enigma to most of the basketball world. Although his talent and potential are evident, many questioned the prospect because of the poor record Washington University had his one and only year there. Very similar to his current Sixer teammate Ben Simmons, Fultz was a number one pick who didn’t lead his team to the NCAA tournament. In fact, Washington had a dismal season, only winning 9 games while losing 22. What made it even worse was the 2-16 conference record in the Pac-12, which isn’t viewed as a juggernaut conference by any stretch. How will he be able to elevate an NBA franchise if he couldn’t even do so in college?
Since 2000, of all the number one picks who played college basketball, Fultz and Ben Simmons were the only players to not lead their team to the NCAA tournament their last year in college. Simmons has an edge over Fultz, as LSU won enough games to make the NIT Tournament. With so many losses in Fultz’s freshman season as a Huskie, there is legitimate question about whether he makes his teammates better.
Although there are questions about his leadership, there are certainly no questions about his talent. Although it was in limited display because of an ankle injury, Fultz had the Summer League buzzing. The variety of hesitation dribble moves and pull up jump shots showed flashes of what all the scouts raved about him. Fultz can flourish in his new environment because of his game as well as what will be asked of him. Unlike a few of his other top ten draft mates, he will be entering into a situation where making the playoffs is most certainly a possibility.
In this league, there is so much talk about who is “the man” on a respective team. Fortunately for Fultz, he is walking into a situation where there is already a definite transcendent player. His name is Joel Embiid. The only question about Embiid is his health. When he is on that court all eyes are on him. He proved that this past season for the Sixers, even if it was only for 31 games.
There is also Ben Simmons. Just like Embiid, Simmons was very much hyped coming into his rookie season until an injury derailed him. Simmons’ passing is extraordinarily gifted and his 6 foot 9 inch frame puts that skill over the top. The biggest question about Simmons is his shooting. He will need a guard who can play off-ball and shoot efficiently. This is where Fultz enters. Fultz shot 41 percent from the three in college this past year. In 2017, guards that can play off-ball and shoot the three are a vital component to being successful.
With the combination of Embiid and Simmons, along with another talented young player in Dario Saric, Fultz is not going to have to singularly put the franchise on his shoulders. If you compare that to the number two pick Lonzo Ball, it’s a whole different story. President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson has been saying Ball is “the new face of the Lakers”. Josh Jackson, who was drafted by the Phoenix Suns, is on a team with less talent and doesn’t nearly have the bright outlook that the Sixers have. Then there is De’Aaron Fox, who was drafted by the Sacramento Kings. Enough said.
The only comparable situation is Jayson Tatum, who was drafted third by the Boston Celtics. The Celtics are a championship team in the making in the East, but Tatum will most likely not see the floor that much in his rookie campaign. A lot will definitely be expected of Fultz, but he will be sharing the burden. The questions about his vocal leadership and defense will definitely be dissected. There will be no need to single him out however thanks to the Philly youth movement.
Markelle Fultz and the Philadelphia 76ers will most certainly be must-watch TV in the 2017-2018 season. With 14 games to be televised on either ESPN/TNT this year, including a Christmas day matinée, the rest of the Basketball world is taking notice. After years of being a laughing stock, “the process” could soon transfer to some results. After months of the basketball universe talking with more frequency about other players in the 2017 draft, Fultz may have hit the jackpot. He will have a front row seat to one of the NBA’s new upcoming teams and he won’t have to be in it alone.