Before most of the elite college squads could could even think about who they’d be playing against in the impending NCAA Tournament, this year’s top prospect already set his sights on the next direction of his career. Last Friday, freshman guard Markelle Fultz announced that he’d leave the Washington Huskies and declare for the NBA Draft.
Although that decision came earlier than most folks expected, it was always clear that Fultz would be a one-and-done player. That status was due to several factors that included the Huskies lack of depth or just Fultz being an incredibly solid player and a likely candidate for being the top overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
That second statement quickly became more apparent as Fultz trudged through his freshman season. Despite the constant struggles of the Huskies, Fultz spent every night solidifying himself as arguably the best freshman in college basketball. His elite status is backed up by Fultz averaging 23.2 points, 5.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks per game on 48% from the field and 42% from beyond the arc on five perimeter attempts per game.
As you can probably tell from those solid numbers, Fultz stands as a player that can contribute in a variety of different ways on both ends of the court. While his impact on the defensive end is definitely impressive, Fultz stands as an elite draft prospect due to his offensive versatility.
During his lone season in Washington, Fultz showcased an ability to contribute in the following ways: facilitating, on-ball cuts, perimeter and mid-range shooting and crashing the offensive glass. Although he was incredibly solid in each of those traits, most of the intrigue surrounding Fultz was due to his knack as a distributor.
From the moment that he landed in Washington, Fultz took on a role as Washington’s main facilitator. Taking on that position could prove to be challenging for Fultz as he manly worked as a score-first guard during his time in high school and in various FIBA tournaments. Luckily, Fultz had an opportunity to get accustomed to that role against mid-major squads like Cal-State Fullerton or Northern Arizona. While most players would likely have some early struggles in that new role, Fultz quickly shined in that role during the team’s non-conference schedule. During those initial eight games, Fultz’ skills was evident by him averaging 6 assists with a solid 2.2 Ast/TO ratio.
Fultz’ success as a facilitator continued when he made the transition into the Pac-12 portion of the season. Against Pac-12 competition, Fultz’ facilitating numbers relatively stayed the same despite competing against better opposition. During his twelve Pac-12 games, Fultz averaged 5.5 assists per game with a 1.6 Ast/TO ratio.
Those solid facilitating numbers were due to how comfortable Fultz looked as a distributor. Whether he’s working in half-court or transition sets, Fultz maintains the kind of confidence that you usually see from an NBA veteran rather than an 18-year-old guard that just got accustomed to the position that he’s currently in. Whether he’s working in half-court or transition, Fultz does a great job of utilizing his 6’4 frame to look over the floor and make the necessary read.
Most of Fultz’s facilitating magic comes when he’s working in the half-court. Within that area, Fultz seems at peace as he can decide whether to make a precise pass while he’s at the perimeter or work in drive-and-kick situations. When it comes to working on the perimeter, Fultz does a nice job of quickly locating an open teammate and then throwing a perfect pass.
That same process is apparent when Fultz is working in the drive-and-dish as he can make a precise feed to a player when he’s cutting to the paint, whether that teammate is also driving to the paint or working on the perimeter. An example of Fultz’ knack as a drive-and-dish facilitator is seen in the play below.
While Fultz is able to impress as a facilitator, there’s one trait where he can just be awe-inspiring: on-ball cutting. At first, it might be way too much to be in awe of a player’s ability as a cutter when they’re not the quickest or have the best hops in the game, which Fultz really doesn’t. However, Fultz has this unique ability to work his way to the paint and score around the rim no matter if there’s two or even three defenders around him.
What Fultz lacks in pure athleticism or quickness, he makes up for it by matching phenomenal handles with an incredible heart and hustle. When it comes to his handles, Fultz is able to utilize these incredibly side-steps and spin moves that regularly confuse the opposition. When he’s unable to do that, Fultz somehow finds a way to score around contact despite having a skinny 180 pound frame. Those traits pushed Fultz to shoot 63% from around the rim, according to Hoop-Math.
Transitioning from the paint to the perimeter, Fultz is able to maintain his status as a solid and efficient player. During his lone season in Washington, Fultz shot 42% from beyond the arc on a little over five attempts per game, which should allow him to stand as one of the more efficient perimeter shooters in this year’s draft class. Fultz’ efficiency as an outside shooter is due to the combination of a solid shooting stroke and confidence. Whether he’s working catch-and-shoot or off-the-dribble, Fultz can regularly utilize his smooth jumper that’s quick and has a high release.
After a rough season with the Washington Huskies, Fultz will be spending the next three months trying to prove why he deserves to be the number one pick in this year’s NBA Draft. While he put up fantastic numbers and showcased a well-rounded game, NBA scouts might be weary to draft a player that spent his lone college season playing for a squad that had a 9-22 record.
Despite the clear concerns that NBA teams would have with a player that spent his time with a below-average squad, Fultz should still stand as the top prospect in this year’s draft. As we’ve mentioned throughout this piece, Fultz is a phenomenal guard that can lead a team through his facilitating, on-ball cuts or perimeter shooting.
hat ability to lead a team in a variety of ways is unique to see in an NBA All-Star, let alone a player that won’t turn 19 until late May. While Fultz has gone through some struggles over the last few months, there’s absolutely no doubt that basketball fans are about to spend the next decade just marveling over what Markelle Fultz is about to do in the NBA.