On Friday, news that has basically been unofficial for years became official when Washington Huskies star Markelle Fultz announced he was headed to the NBA Draft. The 6’4" guard from Maryland is projected by virtually every outlet to be the first overall pick in June and is also rated the No. 1 player on FOX Sports’ big board.
But while Fultz has been the apple of the NBA’s eye for years, it doesn’t mean he won’t enter the pros without questions. Despite putting up historically great numbers at Washington, his team also was historically bad during his time there as well. A late-season injury – just as other prospects began to take off – certainly hasn’t helped things.
So now that Fultz is headed to the pros, what do you need to know about him? Here are five things:
Elaine ThompsonAP photo
He’s got the most unique path to college superstardom of any player in years
For years it seems like the path to the top of the NBA Draft has been just about the same for every player coming out of college. Get identified as a star in your pre-teens. Work your way through the AAU ranks and go to a high school powerhouse. Head to a one-and-done factory for college and declare for the pros. Except with Fultz, his story couldn’t be more different.
Fultz wasn’t one of those kids that was identified as a star in his pre-teens, but – in a story that is well-known by now – actually played on the JV team his sophomore year of high school. The issue for Fultz wasn’t skill, but instead size: At the time he stood just 5’9. That’s also why Fultz ended up at Washington as opposed to other, bigger-name schools. They were the first – and only – school to identify him as a high-major prospect when he was still so young.
The Huskies’ advance scouting paid off big-time as Fultz grew to 6’5 by the start of his senior year. By that time schools like Arizona, Lousiville and others were on him, but it was too late. He committed to Washington just as he was emerging into a legit five-star prospect and future NBA lottery pick.
Ted S. WarrenAP
He was supposed to play with Marquese Chriss and DeJounte Murray at Washington this season
Quite a bit has been written about Washington’s struggles with Fultz this season (more on that coming), but what many forget is that the team he played with this year isn’t the same one he committed to in the fall of 2015. At the time, Washington had a pair of freshmen named Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss who were expected to join forces with Fultz to create one of the most dynamic young squads in college basketball. Murray even discussed how much he looked forward to playing with Fultz, when Fultz declared to become a Husky.
Unfortunately, Huskies fans never got that chance to see them in action. Both Murray and Chriss blew up as freshmen and surprisingly declared for the NBA Draft last spring. By the time they announced it was way too late for the Huskies to get similarly skilled replacements, leaving Fultz on an island. That’s also – above everything else – what led to the Huskies’ miserable 2016-2017 campaign, which included a 9-22 overall record with a 2-16 mark in Pac-12 play.
Even as the Huskies struggled, Fultz thrived statistically
While it’s impossible to argue that Washington was a disappointment this year – especially considering they had a future No. 1 pick on their roster – the one thing you can’t do is blame Fultz for their struggles. His stats alone say it all, as he averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game. Not only are those numbers good, they’re historically great.
This season Fultz became the first person in the last 25 years to average 20-5-5 while shooting at least 40 percent from the field, and his 23.2 points per game average is the most for any Washington player since the 1950’s. Keep in mind that during that stretch the Huskies have produced a slew of NBA All-Stars including Brandon Roy and Isaiah Thomas, not to mention others like Nate Robinson. And none have put up better stats – at any point in their careers – than Fultz did as a freshman.
He’s still projected to go No. 1 in the draft
As Fultz gets set to head to the NBA, there are two camps quickly emerging on him. One wonders why – if he is really as good as everyone says he is – Fultz’s team struggled as much as they did. (Even Ben Simmons managed to get LSU to near 20 wins last season.) They also wonder if his status as the top player in the draft will continue to be hurt as guys like UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, Duke’s Jayson Tatum and Kansas’ Josh Jackson thrive in March.
Fortunately for Fultz, most NBA people fall into another camp: They don’t care how his team did. They still see a player with the skill-set to one day become an NBA All-Star.
The numbers back it up on Fultz, and so too does the film. Looking at him on tape – as all NBA teams will – it quickly becomes clear that Fultz not only does everything needed from an NBA point guard, but he does it at an extremely high level. He is quick off the dribble, is excellent in pick-and-roll situations, has an incredible ability to change direction, has great vision (as noted by the assists) and shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc as well. Regardless of the win/loss record, those are some incredible stats.
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There is one final uncertainty though
Again, if this was all based solely on X’s and O’s it seems certain that Fultz would end up No. 1 overall. But there is one final issue that needs to be addressed as we get closer to draft time: A lingering knee issue that cost Fultz the final four games of the season of six of the final eight.
At this point little is known about the injury, other than that it was listed as “sore” for the final few weeks of the season. Washington’s doctors refused to clear him for play over the final few games and neither would an outside doctor. To say the least it has raised some red flags in NBA circles, even if it doesn’t appear to be anything major (Fultz nearly suited up for the Huskies’ Pac-12 Tournament game against USC on Wednesday).
Still, it is an issue. And above everything else, it needs to get figured out between now and draft time.