Markelle Fultz was selected #1 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in tonight’s NBA Draft. The pick is the result of a trade completed on Monday which saw Philly give up a future first round pick to swap places with Boston and put them in position to take Fultz.
This selection makes a tremendous amount of sense for the 76ers. Last year’s #1 overall pick, Ben Simmons, didn’t end up playing a single game but his anticipated presence as a point forward left Philly with unique roster needs. With Simmons playing the point, they have a severe lack of shooting and so need a combo guard who would be able to play off the ball and be able to stroke it from deep. Fultz fills that slot nearly perfectly.
As I noted in my draft profile, there are some reasons to believe that he isn’t as good of a shooter as he displayed in college. But if Fultz can get anywhere remotely close to his 41.3% that he shot at UW then he will make Philly a dynamic team on offense. Given the histories of their past two top-3 picks in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the biggest concern for most fans will be the 5 games that Fultz missed with knee soreness. However, he has never had any kind of ligament tear and any kind of injury at this point would just be bad luck similar to Simmons’s broken foot last year.
Fultz should slot in as the starting point guard for Philadelphia even though he may play more of a shooting guard role when the starters are on the floor. I would expect that Fultz may get an earlier breather and come back in to lead the 2nd unit when Simmons goes out so that at least one of them can be on the court at all times. He’ll certainly have the opportunity to play 25-30 minutes and be one of the favorites for the Rookie of the Year award.
For Husky fans, it’s easy to feel emotionally detached from the “Markelle Fultz era”. Last season the Dawgs had a pair of one and dones in Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray. Even though they too left without qualifying for the NCAA tournament it felt a little bit more like they were part of the UW family. Murray was a Seattle guy and Chriss always showed a ton of emotion on the court. Both of them greatly exceeded expectations in order to end up being drafted where they were and it was cool for the fans to see the tremendous growth. Fultz isn’t local, he was a part of a team that won only two conference games, and he was basically consistently great his entire time here. It didn’t help that he has a naturally reserved personality on the court which makes it difficult for the average fan to form an emotional bond.
This was thrown into further contrast by the selection of Kelsey Plum at #1 overall in the WNBA draft. Kelsey showed up very good, continued to get better over 4 years, broke every record imaginable, and lifted the program to previously unknown heights. That’s what every fan wants out of their #1 overall pick. Someone who they can tell their grand kids: I got to see her back in the day and she was a Husky Legend. Even if Fultz goes on to win multiple titles in Philadelphia, the average UW fan’s view will be that it was kind of cool to get to watch him play in person. But in the same way that a Portland Trailblazers fan can say they got to watch Lebron play in person by going to the Cleveland @ Portland game. He was never truly ours.
This isn’t the space to go into a debate over the NBA’s draft rules but we certainly experienced the worst of it this season. If Fultz had delivered a Final Four berth then it might have been a much different story but losing with a player of Fultz’s caliber knowing he was gone the second the last horn blew just sucked the life out of everything.
Still, I’d like to say a last thank you to Markelle on behalf of Husky Nation. The dude could have backed off of his commitment to Washington and headed to Kentucky or Duke to compete for a title. Instead, he remained loyal to Lorenzo Romar and Raphael Chillious. That kind of loyalty is rare among top recruits and showed his character to put his faith in the men who put their faith in him, even if it didn’t work out. Best of luck to Markelle in the NBA and now the Mike Hopkins era of Husky Basketball can truly begin.