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NBA Draft Scouting 2017: Breaking Down Markelle Fultz

Markelle Fultz, Washington
Ben Simmons sent shockwaves through the college basketball world when the nation's top prospect opted to head to LSU and play for head coach Johnny Jones, instead of going to a "blue-blood" program such as Kentucky or Duke. The surprising move had its ups-and-downs; at times Simmons and LSU were playing really well, but all too often the help around the star forward was dismal and in the end, the Tigers missed the NCAA Tournament despite having one of the faces of college basketball. Things worked out just fine for Simmons who fulfilled his destiny by becoming the building block of the Philadelphia Sixers after being selected No. 1 overall in the 2016 NBA Draft. One season later, Markelle Fultz did much the same but opted to head Northwest, joining the Washington Huskies. Fultz was a superstar in high school at Maryland, and believed his NBA future was better in the hands of Lorenzo Romar. Fultz proved to be the real deal, racking up 23.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG and 5.9 APG, but his supporting cast was far from perfect. Without much help and in an offense that had terrible spacing, the Huskies dipped to 9-22 and Romar was fired after missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive season. Fultz is now trying to do what Simmons did; overcome a poor team to impress NBA scouts enough to hear his name be called first come June. With his talent and upside, it would be no surprise if he does.

Offense: One of the first things you'll notice about Fultz offensively is his smooth, polished jumper. In a Draft Class with a number of guards not known for their shooting abilities (Lonzo Ball, De'Aaron Fox) that is obviously a key asset to have. Fultz over 41.3 percent from deep and was an effective mid range shooter. He is a deadeye spot up shooting, but he is still learning how to create his own shot. Fultz is a great athlete but he has never been known as being insanely quick or having unbelievable handles, making it more difficult to beat defenders and get his shot up, especially at the next level. With that in mind, he has to become even quicker with his shot and utilize his pump-fakes. Standing at 6'4" and nearly 200 pounds, Fultz impressive and sturdy frame is going to pay off big-time for him in the NBA. It will allow him to take it to the rim finish through contact, even in the physical NBA and hold up over the course of the 82-game season. Even without an insane level of quickness or an explosive first step, that size is going to be able to get him plenty of baskets at the next level. Fultz is a great passer, and he showed tremendous court awareness throughout his time with the Huskies. Even in an offense that was so often poorly spaced, and with so little talent around him, the point guard showed a knack for reading the defense in the correct way and making great passes, enabling him to average nearly six assists per game. Defenders are going to be tougher and better at the next level, but his court vision and smarts should enable him to still run a successful NBA offense. If there is one big issue, it is his tendency to telegraph passes. It wasn't an overwhelmingly terrible issue at the college ranks, but it can't continue on to the pros. Fultz is a terrific weapon in the transition game, as he attacks the defense in a variety of different ways. He is great at taking advantage of numbers and finding the openings, and his decision-making means his team will always get the most out of their trips down the floor.

Defense: While his offensive stats were gaudy, Fultz also showed plenty of playmaking abilities on the defensive end of the court. He took advantage of his long arms and impressive athleticism to rack up 1.6 steals per game. Again, ball-handlers are going to be better in the NBA, but Fultz has great lateral movement and his sturdy frame is not going to be pushed around, especially if he keeps guarding point guards. Fultz is great at recognizing opponents' tendencies and can jump passing routes effectively, which will open up that dangerous transition game. He also averaged 1.2 blocks per game in the college ranks. No NBA team is going to be expecting him to swat many shots, but his defensive awareness and superb flexibility enables him to get in the way or deflect shots, which is always going to help out a defense. The big issue for Fultz on the defensive side of the ball is an interesting one: getting caught watching the ball. Its something that plenty of young players struggle with, but it can be a big issue. Often, Fultz was caught watching the ball and not paying attention to his defender, which left him susceptible to back-door cuts or other open shots by his men. Even with his ability to track down defenders and make plays, he can't recover from a good back-door, and too often his Washington defenders didn't help him out too much. He can't make the same mistakes at the next level, but it is not a super difficult thing to correct. Simply better coaching and focus by Fultz can easily correct the mistake and help him on his quest to be a lock-down defender.

Verdict: The upcoming 2017 Draft Class has the best collection of guards I think we've seen in awhile, from the uber-athletic Lonzo Ball and De'Aaron Fox to the gritty play of veterans Juwan Evans and Frank Mason. However, I believe Fultz is miles ahead of the rest of the Class, even though he does have some flaws (as any 18-19 year-old player is going to have). His jump shot is already terrific, although it could use some refinements, and he can take it to the rim as well as anybody. Fultz has also proven that he can be a key contributor on a very bad team, so he knows how to lead even in the face of struggles. With Brooklyn locking down the worst record in the NBA, Boston now has the best chance at locking down the No. 1 pick (they own the Nets pick), so he won't have to deal with that right away if that happens, but it is still an obviously important trait to have.

Where He'll Go: No. 1 to Boston Celtics

Check out my full NBA Mock Draft 2017 coming out later this spring

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