NBA Scouts Bullish on Markelle Fultz's Rookie-Year Impact: 'He's Ready Day 1'

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterAugust 4, 2017

NBA Scouts Bullish on Markelle Fultz's Rookie-Year Impact: 'He's Ready Day 1'

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    Many NBA scouts were enamored with Markelle Fultz during his freshman year at Washington, which is what made the Boston Celtics-Philadelphia 76ers predraft trade so compelling. 

    "Obviously, something about Fultz rubbed [Boston] wrong," one scout told Bleacher Report after the deal. 

    Meanwhile, Philadelphia gave up the No. 3 pick and a future first-rounder just to move up two spots, a bold move that points to management's confidence in Fultz's ability to be the franchise guard it's been waiting on.

    Bleacher Report reached out to scouts for their feeling on Fultz's potential, the challenges he'll face, his fit with Ben Simmons and how he's viewed relative to recent No. 1 picks.

What Scouts Love About Fultz

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    Fultz averaged 23.2 points per game to lead all freshmen, which he did on 47.6 percent shooting (43.8 percent on two-point jumpers) and 41.3 percent on three-pointers.

    Scouts pointed to his distinguishably sharp, well-rounded skills, specifically advanced shot-creating and shot-making that fuels exciting scoring potential. But he also finished with a higher assist percentage (35.5 percent) than Lonzo Ball (31.4), De'Aaron Fox (28.6) and Dennis Smith Jr. (34.2). 

    Scout No. 1: "Offensive skill set is very good. Able to get you a shot if need be late in the clock or early on, and he has creating ability that is undervalued."

    Scout No. 2: "He's an underrated playmaker because his teammates at Washington didn't finish a lot of his passes. Versatile enough to play off the ball, too. Reminds me of Dwyane Wade."

    Scout No. 3: "Yes, his laid-back approach and lack of team success are notable, but his skill level is clearly impressive, and while everyone has a fail factor, his path to being a very good player is pretty apparent."

    Scout No. 4: "I've only heard great things about Fultz's character and work ethic."

Obstacles

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    One scout mentioned Fultz's potential drawbacks:

    Scout No. 5: "I think Fultz is a very talented kid, but that doesn't always translate to results. He is going to have to handle expectations and produce at the same time. His environment will be crucial in his development, and it seems to me the Sixers are counting on a lot of question marks."

    The question marks Scout No. 5 is referring to: Joel Embiid's durability, Simmons' unique style and ball-dominance and a roster that's never played together at full strength.

    No scout questioned Fultz's 9-22 record at Washington, his offense, athleticism or casual approach. They did mention defense and the fact it's not considered a strength for another of Philadelphia's cornerstones. 

    Scout No. 1: "He'll need to make a huge jump defensively. He was bad at times this past college season."

    Scout No. 6: "Neither Ben nor Fultz has a track record of defending."

    Fultz went through lapses in concentration and effort defensively. We saw lazy closeouts, minimal fight through screens, over-confident gambles and ball-watching away from the play. 

    They won't fly past coach Brett Brown in Philadelphia the way they did under Lorenzo Romar, whom Washington fired after the season.

Fit in Philadelphia

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    One of the storylines to watch is how Fultz will fit alongside Simmons, who's been talked about (by both coaches and Simmons) as the Sixers' point guard.

    Both are considered ball-handlers and have run their teams in high school and college, raising questions as to whether they'll mesh or clash.

    Scout No. 6: "On paper, there aren't many problems. Ben is pass-first, Markelle is score-first. Ben is at his best as a primary playmaker. Markelle can play both guard spots. Ben has shooting question marks. Markelle will be fine from NBA distance. It works on paper.

    "If both think they are point guards and won't budge on that, it can get awkward. If they can embrace positionless basketball, sky is the limit."

    Scout No. 5: "I think Ben and Fultz will figure it out pretty easily. Lot of possessions in an NBA game."

    As scout No. 2 previously mentioned, Fultz's versatility—and the fact he's 6'4" with a near 6'10" wingspan—suggests playing shooting guard off the ball won't be an issue for him. 

How Ready Is Fultz?

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    Fultz just finished his one season at Washington as the only player in 25 years to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists and shoot 40 percent from three. And given his tools and bounce, as well as a projected high-usage role, all signs point to a smooth transition and rookie production. 

    Scout 3: "Yes, he's ready day one. His combination of skill, size and athleticism will allow him to quickly impact games at both ends."

    History suggests No. 1 overall picks are ready to cook right away. Still, seven of the last 12 Rookie of the Year winners have been No. 2 picks or lower. And as of July 24, Las Vegas is betting against Fultz to follow Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

    OddsShark lists Lonzo Ball as the favorite to win the award (5-2), followed by Dennis Smith Jr. (3-1), Simmons (15-4) and Jayson Tatum (5-1). Fultz and Fox follow at 10-1.

    While everyone expects Fultz to produce, oddsmakers don't even see him as the most impactful rookie on his own team in 2017-18.

Fultz Versus Previous No. 1 Picks

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    Playing few (if any) meaningful games for a losing college team, Fultz isn't your typical No. 1 overall pick, though we did have a similar discussion last year when Simmons and LSU missed the NCAA tournament. 

    Based on team record and overall performance, the Huskies' season was worse. But in spite of all the losses and garbage-time production, the numbers and eye test showed little weakness in Fultz. He scored efficiently from all three levels and demonstrated both advanced passing ability and the willingness to give it up.

    He also checks out as above average physically and athletically, particularly for a point guard. Even with questions about his defense, he still averaged 1.6 steals and an impressive 1.2 blocks per game, highlighting his playmaking at both ends of the floor.

    So how did scouts and analytics experts rank Fultz relative to previous No. 1 overall picks? The answers varied.

    Scout No. 2: "His ability to score in every way—threes, drives, pull-ups, transition, free throws—sets him apart from a lot of recent No. 1 picks." 

    Scout No. 7: "In terms of expected value, I had Fultz and Ball effectively tied in a tier of their own at the top of their class. Historically, they rated as strong No. 2s or weak No. 1s."

    "Fultz rated very similar [analytically] to how Kyrie Irving did coming out of college." 

    Scout No. 8: "I had Fultz rated as average among recent No. 1 picks."

            

    All stats courtesy of Sports Reference, Hoop-Math.com. Wingspan courtesy of DraftExpress.com. Quotes obtained firsthand.