"Situational Analysis" is a series of articles that seeks to examine the circumstances that most often influence an NBA prospect’s success. Each player will be scored on a scale from 1-10 in four different categories: NBA-specific skill(s), fatal flaw(s), collegiate/overseas/pre-NBA environment, and ideal NBA ecosystem.
Markelle Fultz is an 18-year-old (19 on May 29) guard from Maryland who averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists during his freshman season for the University of Washington. He officially declared for the draft on March 11, where he is expected to be a top-3 selection. NBADraft.net currently has him going No. 1 overall.
It might be simpler to describe the things Fultz doesn’t do well on a basketball court. At this point in his (admittedly early) stage in his basketball development, Fultz is either good, very good, or spectacular at anything a coach would conceivably ask him to do.
Fultz is a tremendous athlete. He might not have John Wall’s blazing straight-line speed, but only John Wall has that. He can either lead the break or fill the lane in transition. He’s quick, explosive, physical. His body is almost NBA ready right now; when he fills out, he’ll be among the most physically imposing lead guards in the NBA.
Fultz can create. Despite being the only NBA-level talent on Washington’s roster, he constantly probed opposing defenses to set up his teammates. How many other players could tally 6 assists per game with that supporting cast?
Fultz’s most valuable skill, though, is his ability to create for himself. The vast majority of his 23 points per game came as a result of his individual brilliance. He can get his shot seemingly any time he wants. Pull-ups? Check. Spotting up? Check. Running off screens? Check. Breaking down his man and getting to the rim? Check. Three-point range? Check (41 percent on 5 attempts per game).
He gets after it on the glass, pulling down nearly 6 boards per contest. He’s the NBA’s next consistent triple-double threat.
Fultz also makes his presence felt on the defensive end, with a combined 2.8 steals and blocks per game. Fultz, in fact, blocked more shots (30) than 7-footer Lauri Markkanen (19).
He also found a way to keep his turnovers in check (3.2 per game), despite handling the ball on nearly every UW possession in 35 minutes a night.
Fultz’s ceiling puts him in multiple All-Star games, but it’s his remarkably high floor that makes him the logical No. 1 pick. Prospects typically don’t enter the draft with such diverse, well-rounded skillsets — particularly those who turn 19 a month before the draft. It’s impossible to envision a scenario, short of catastrophic injury, in which Fultz ends up a total bust.
On a scale from 1 (that one random dude on Twitter with 20 followers who tried to talk trash about my "Situational Analysis" series before I blocked him harder than Dikembe Mutombo) to 10 (LeBron James), Fultz’s NBA-ready skillset rates at a 9. All 30 NBA teams can use Markelle Fultz.
Fultz sure lost a lot of games, didn’t he?
In the next section, we’ll talk more about why the Washington Huskies were so terrible, but it still gives me slight pause to select a player with the No. 1 overall pick that finished his lone college season 13 games below .500.
Think about that for a moment. Nine wins. Twenty-two losses — 16 of which came with Fultz on the floor. The last time Markelle Fultz stepped onto a basketball court and left it with his team victorious was Jan. 18. Barack Obama was still the president.
Here is a list of opponents Fultz’s team defeated: Cal State Fullerton, Northern Arizona, Long Beach State, Western Kentucky, Western Michigan, Cal Poly, Seattle, Oregon State, Colorado. He finished his collegiate career on a 7-game losing streak before sitting out the final four games with a knee injury.
If Fultz is supposed to be a transformational NBA talent, why was his college team so abysmal? If his presence alone can’t generate an NCAA Tournament appearance, can an NBA franchise expect his presence to eventually result in playoff appearances — even when he’s 5-7 years older?
There is this strange, unsettling movement among "smart" basketball analysts who seem to believe that wins and losses are somehow a secondary concern. We hear this all the time when an NBA team is out of playoff contention and writers declare they need to tank in order to improve their draft odds, as if tickets are free and games aren’t broadcast and ads aren’t sold. Sure, it can be viewed as "smart," but losing is still losing.
Not to go all Herm Edwards on you, but seriously, what’s the point of all this if winning doesn’t matter?
(Also, Fultz shot only 65 percent from the foul line on nearly 7 attempts a game — a surprisingly bad number for a player who will likely shoot a lot of free throws.)
On a scale from 1 (Steve Nash at the free-throw line) to 10 (Chris Dudley at the free-throw-line) Fultz’s inability to lead his team to a win over a single quality NCAA opponent rates at a 7.
What Lorenzo Romar did to Fultz’s freshman season was a basketball tragedy.
The new associate head coach for Sean Miller and the Arizona Wildcats is one of the nation’s finest recruiters and is a beloved figure in the thriving Pacific Northwest basketball community, but it’s almost impossible to lose that many games with a player as talented as Fultz.
Fultz was born to play in a spread pick-and-roll system surrounded by shooters, giving him space to operate. Romar, instead, chose to keep the floor cramped with two non-shooting big men for most of Fultz’s minutes. It’s a miracle Fultz was still somehow able to find room, but he had to have perfect possessions every single trip down the floor in order for the Huskies to get a clean look at the rim.
Despite playing big lineups in most games, Washington gave up more than 81 points per outing — 329 out of 347 college basketball programs. Romar found a way to pull off the impossible — surround college basketball’s best singular talent with lineups that couldn’t defend or space the floor. Outside of Fultz, only David Crisp (36.7) and Matisse Thybulle (40.5) made more than one-third of their 3-point attempts.
Despite all this, Fultz never got down on himself or his teammates. Unlike a previous No. 1 overall pick with a subpar supporting collegiate cast, Fultz played his tail off every single time he suited up. The losing didn’t seem to affect Fultz’s attitude or effort. It’s understandable — almost inevitable — to see a teenager succumb to all that losing. Fultz kept at it before a knee injury put an early end to his season.
On a scale from 1 (Ben Simmons at LSU) to 10 (Buddy Hield at Oklahoma), Fultz’s pre-NBA setting rates a 3. College basketball did Fultz no favors.
Ideal NBA Ecosystem
Fultz can play for any team at either guard spot. The only franchise that could potentially pull a Romar on him is the New York Knicks, given Phil Jackson’s maniacal devotion to a shape.
Any team that plays a modern style of basketball can benefit from what Fultz brings to the table. He receives a lot of James Harden comparisons, but that is a bit unfair. Nobody plays like James Harden, with his mix of maximum physicality and off-kilter hesitations. Harden’s game is like the hiccups — jarring, jolting, unexpected, erratic.
Fultz is much smoother and more traditional. It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which Fultz is the lead creator on a 50-win team, as long as he’s surrounded by shooters. Any lottery team would be lucky to have him.
On a scale from 1 (Danny Green bouncing around the NBA until he found the ideal fit with the Spurs) to 10 (the 12-or-so guys in the NBA who can succeed regardless of the situation), Fultz’s ideal NBA ecosystem rating is an 8.
Let’s just hope Fultz doesn’t spend the bulk of his rookie contract playing for a franchise trying to lose on purpose. He’s taken enough L’s.