In the 2016 NBA Draft, the Sixers chose Ben Simmons with the No. 1 overall selection. And although he has yet to step onto an NBA court due to a foot injury, Simmons is still just 20 with infinite upside.
After trading up to the No. 1 overall pick, the Sixers put themselves in a great position to add a franchise pillar to their young core.
The first pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, Markelle Fultz, simply adds to the treasure trove of elite potential stars at their disposal.
Furthermore, center Joel Embiid has shown in just 31 games that he can already influence the outcome of a game like few others in the league. If it wasn’t for an untimely injury, he too, would have been the No. 1 overall selection of his draft class.
But back to Fultz, this Twitter headline from Bleacher Report following the Sixers’ deal to acquire the coveted pick is just one example of how excited many experts are with Fultz’s potential.
Regardless of the sport, being taken No. 1 overall in a draft brings an enormous amount of extra pressure and responsibility.
Fultz is certainly not shying away from these expectations. In fact, he’s putting additional pressure and expectations on himself, such is his self-belief and determination to succeed.
Recently, Fultz partook in a chat and a game of one-on-one with seven-time All-Star, Tracy McGrady. During their brief meeting, McGrady asked Fultz what goals he had set for himself for his rookie campaign.
“Yeah, I’ve got big goals. Rookie of the year…MVP.”
Naturally, comments of this nature are bound to raise the eyebrows of coaches and players alike around the league. But this was certainly not the first, or for that matter the last, time that Fultz expresses his own self-confidence.
During his past season at the University of Washington, Fultz spoke with Bleacher Report, covering a number of subjects. Among the topics was how he forecast his career panning out despite not yet stepping on an NBA floor.
“When I was younger, trying to make the make the freshman and JV team, my dream was always to make it to the NBA. At first, I was thinking about just getting to the NBA, just watching the NBA, being one of the All-Stars in the NBA. But I actually want to be the best to ever play this game. And I think I have a pretty good chance to do that.”
While some will feel that Fultz is possibly getting ahead of himself, these statements should certainly leave the Sixers in doubt as to Fultz’s future aspirations.
Just as prevalent as Fultz’s self-belief is the universal praise for the 6’4″, 19-year-old prodigy.
From scouts to analysts to coaches to players, the overall feeling is unanimous – Fultz is a can’t miss prospect.
Take it from ESPN College Analyst, Jay Bilas, one of the most respected voices on the college scene:
“Markelle Fultz will fit with anyone. He is the most complete offensive player in the draft. Passes. Shoots. Shoots from range. Finishes around the basket. And he’s got NBA size and length for a point guard. He’s the best pick-and-roll ball handler in the draft. He can go either way. Excellent passer, and especially an excellent passer in pick-and-roll situations….he’s the real deal. You could put him next to anybody, and he’ll play.”
Any sound-minded Sixers fan who reads this will be salivating at the prospect of Fultz arriving in Philadelphia. Bilas is essentially saying that Fultz ticks all the boxes for the modern-day NBA guard.
Then there is the detailed scouting report provided on the highly reputable Draft Express site. Containing a lengthy list of platitudes, here is a small excerpt of their evaluation:
“Fultz has ideal physical tools for a point guard, standing 6’4 (possibly 6’5) in shoes with a massive 6’10 wingspan. He has big hands, a strong frame, and a shifty, herky-jerky style athlete who is quick off his feet and can play above the rim in space. Fultz is a tantalizingly gifted shot-creator, sporting an extraordinary combination of body control, ball-handling, footwork and pace. He changes speeds, directions and uses both hands innately, spinning off opponents, splitting ball-screens frequently, and finishing with euro-steps.”
A significant further line from their report was the following:
“As good as Fultz is on the ball, he also has significant potential operating alongside another ball-handler with his excellent size, length and frame, giving his future NBA coach plenty of lineup flexibility.”
In a nutshell, most observers are describing Fultz as the total package on the offensive end, with next to no flaws in his arsenal. Playing alongside Simmons in the backcourt, his ability to also play off the ball and still be able to contribute is yet another feather in his cap.
Then there are the current players who can’t help but be impressed.
“People don’t realize it because they didn’t get to watch him as much this year. I don’t want to say he’s a Russ-level athlete, but he’s closer to that than not. If he went to the combine, which I’m not sure he’d ever have a reason to, but if he went, he’d test off the charts. He’s just a f—ing freak.”
And these are just SOME of the reviews that have been recorded over the past six months.
Granted, there is no such thing as a sure thing.
Having said that though, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo and his staff should be commended for throwing caution to the wind and grabbing the chance to select such a prestigious talent.
Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
3. Modern-day player
In the era of fast-paced basketball where pushing the ball and stretching the floor is the preferred method of attack, Fultz fits like a glove.
At 6’4″, and with a 6’10” wingspan, Fultz is certain to flourish under head coach Brett Brown’s mantra of “defense, pace and space.” Last season playing for the Washington Huskies, Fultz averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds in 35.7 minutes per game. Impressively, Fultz shot 47.6 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from three-point range.
Also during his one-and-done stint at Washington, Fultz had a usage rate of 31.4 while averaging 3.2 turnovers per game over his 25 games.
Considering the Huskies won just eight games during Fultz’s tenure, these numbers are all the more impressive. To post such significant numbers with this level of efficiency, surrounded by far inferior talent, is testament to Fultz’s capabilities. Furthermore, it makes you wonder what he is capable of producing when surrounded by the likes of Embiid, Simmons, Dario Saric and co.
An athletic guard who excels in the pick-and-roll, can drive the lane at will and shoot from deep is how you would design a player to function in the modern-day NBA.
Possessing all these traits, the Sixers look to have landed themselves one helluva player.
But the complete reverse is the most likely solution. With both Simmons and Fultz entering the season with zero NBA experience, the dynamic duo will be able to feed off each other and face less of a burden than would’ve been the case otherwise.
It’s quite uncommon for any team to have strictly one ball-handler, with the other four players simply standing around watching. The notable exceptions would be James Harden and the Houston Rockets, and Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Ranking first and third in the league in assists respectively, and seventh and first respectively in usage rate, these superstars were an outlier for how the majority of team’s operate.
Considering Fultz’s superior shooting, Simmons is likely to assume the initial ball-handling duties, with coach Brown utilizing Fultz’s ability to play off the ball to assist the Sixers with their recent shooting malaise. Last season, the Sixers ranked 27th in field goal percentage and 25th in three-point percentage.
Fultz’s ability to shoot from anywhere and stretch the floor will not only assist with the Sixers’ shooting percentages, but assist Simmons and Co. in increasing the overall efficiency of the Sixers’ offence.
Regarded as simply flawless on the offensive end, Fultz can be the ultimate glue player to fit between the elite ball-handling of Simmons, the amazing versatility of Embiid, and the defensive prowess of Robert Covington. Last season alone, Embiid’s presence was significant enough that the Sixers compiled a 10-5 record for January. And this was with Embiid on a minutes restriction, and playing just 31 games on the year.
When you add Fultz, a healthy Simmons, and hopefully a fully healthy Embiid to the mix, you couldn’t blame coach Brown and the Sixers for setting the bar high for the coming season in terms of wins and losses. Furthermore, with plenty of salary cap space at their disposal, an important addition via free agency will only help to accelerate the Sixers’ rise.
But it all comes back to Fultz, and the transformational ability he possesses. With the Sixers’ “defense, pace and space” mantra a perfect match for Fultz’s skill set, the Sixers’ players, fans and front office staff alike will be counting down the clock to the commencement of the 2017-18 season.
With the Sixers already ranking No. 1 for season ticket sales for the upcoming season, it appears the fans are already sold on the Markelle Fultz era in Philadelphia too.