Throughout the 2016-2017 season, it has felt almost inevitable that Markelle Fultz will be the top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. In fact, it is almost so inevitable that Fultz is flying under the radar. How is that possible, you ask? Well, it starts and ends with where he chose to play his single year of college basketball.
The Washington Huskies were never supposed to be “good” this season, even with Fultz at the helm. It is fair to say that most thought Lorenzo Romar’s team would be better than the hideous record they have accumulated to this point, but Romar’s ability to maximize talent has been in question for quite some time now. Still, Fultz made the decision to head in that direction for college with full knowledge of the system in place, and even if Washington was legitimately dangerous on the court, the Huskies’ status as something of a secondary team in the Pac-12 would make it difficult for many to get an extended look at Fultz.
Fast-forward to this season and the otherworldly point guard prospect has basically operated in the worst possible situation. Washington presents very little in the way of spacing and player movement, leaving Fultz cramped in his attempts to create for himself and others. The results have still been good, with the 6’4 guard averaging 23.2 points (on 48 percent shooting from the floor and 41 percent from three), 5.9 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game. It is entirely possible, though, that Fultz isn’t getting enough credit for producing at that obscene rate despite some impossible circumstances.
As a prospect, Fultz is the entire package. He’s a big point guard who can play off the ball when he needed. He is both a quality shooter and a distributor capable of making others better in the right situation. Defensively, he has quick hands and the size to switch when needed, while presenting enough effort where his long-term future on that end isn’t a huge concern. Perhaps best of all, Fultz finishes at the rim with effectiveness and is an excellent athlete that will enter the NBA Draft at just 19 years old.
Are there still questions? Sure. There are always questions about any NBA Draft prospect. Fultz probably isn’t the purest of point guards right now, to the extent that anyone still cares about that in a Russell Westbrook world, and the winning “issue” in college will likely be a lightning rod for some. Still, nothing has changed with regard to Fultz sitting atop the prospect heap this season and he still projects as the best player – short-term and long-term – in the 2017 NBA Draft class.
It would be easy to point fingers and blast both Fultz and Ben Simmons for their college choices but, in the end, it appears both stories will end with the same result in late June.
1) Markelle Fultz (Freshman, PG, Washington) – He’s very good at basketball.
2) Josh Jackson (Freshman, SF, Kansas)
Jackson isn’t his team’s best college player, but he remains a favorite of NBA Draft evaluators for good reason. The 6’8 forward from Detroit has been highly productive (16.3 points, 7.2 rebounds per game) but more importantly, Jackson has flashed the versatility, athleticism, and explosiveness that make him a top-five pick. It is probably controversial to have Jackson comfortably ahead of Ball, but he’s more projectable if nothing else.