Markelle Fultz, 6’4″, Washington
2017-2018 Season Review
What can you really say at this point about Markelle Fultz’ rookie season that hasn’t been said? He undoubtedly disappointed both himself and the fanbase with just 14 games played while averaging 7 points, 3 rebounds, and 3.8 assists in just 18 minutes per game. Limited by health issues that appear to be solved, Markelle could not shoot from distance outside of 15′ all of last season. Still, having said that, he posted per 36 averages of 14/6/7.6. Furthermore in addition to his limitations around perimeter scoring, Fultz did display a troubling propensity to get blocked quite a bit on both drives and short shot attempts.
@DerekBodnerNBA Fultz, impressive debut. Looks more explosive than D Russell, perhaps needs to tighten up the J. Little slow on release.
— J Blevins (@JBlevins46) November 14, 2016
One could view these struggles as having the same origin, related to Fultz’ calm and hesitation based game. This “Hesi” worked fantastically in college, where he could rise up and hang in the air until his defender cleared and finish late. The same calm and ease that many (including myself) raved about leading up to the draft and even in summer league, may have made his transition to the speed, length, and timing of NBA defenses more difficult. There were whispers that Fultz changed his shot based on guidance by his former trainer Keith Williams to make it quicker and more compact to avoid those blocks.
— Ramondo L Brown (@RamondoLBrown) July 15, 2018
However, despite his struggles, Fultz displayed a smooth and advanced handle. His ability to get deep into the lane at will showed some signs worthy of optimism heading into this summer.
2018 Offseason Notables
Fultz’ summer of 2018 is already the stuff of legend in NBA circles. Rumors began shortly after the season that he was working with Drew Hanlen of Pure Sweat to re-construct his jumper from the ground up. Hanlen was on record in July as saying he needed three solid months of no basketball to focus on creating and then locking in the muscle memory of the new jump shot. Late in August, reports and some teaser videos began surfacing from Hanlen’s facility of Fultz playing pickup with other NBA players such as Jayson Tatum and Kelly Oubre.
As training camp began, his teammates began to gush about his development and play in practices. And per JJ Redick, Brett Brown asked him on the first day of camp if he would be open to coming off the bench to allow Brown to start Fultz and stagger his minutes at point guard for the remainder of games. This showed a level of confidence heading into the preseason from what Brown and others had seen over the summer from Fultz.
Areas of Improvement
When discussing Markelle Fultz, the separator from potential all star to potential bust really comes down to the level of progress he makes on his jump shot. If Fultz can improve even to the point of being a credible threat to shoot when a defender goes under on a screen, then he can develop into a very high level facilitator in the pick-and-roll and also as a secondary ball creator when paired with Ben Simmons. The gif below is the kind of shots that Fultz needs to be able to make in order to play heavy minutes with Ben Simmons.
Markelle can also continue to work on his diet, body fat, and quickness. He is a tremendous athlete but still hasn’t fully developed the level of cut and muscle that could unlock more explosion and quickness and allow him to beat opponents both with feel and with physical dominance. His frame is nearly ideal for his position, but his fitness is still that of a 20 year old.
Areas of Strength
When talking about Markelle Fultz’ strengths, it really comes down to a couple of things. First, his frame and length, as mentioned above, are nearly ideal. When fully developed, Fultz could have a body like Russell Westbrook. Stylistically, he is nothing like Russ, as his sense of calm and sleepy sneaky athleticism run counter to Russell’s seeming rage and angry style, but body-wise, they have similar shoulders and wingspans.
Defense is an area that Fultz can really separate himself. His anticipation, patience, and length allow him to really be a weapon in transition defense with chase-down blocks and recoveries to allow his defense to get set. He has shown advancement in his ability to fight through screens so far this preseason and led the team in deflections in China against the Mavs. In the second game, he was put into foul trouble from getting a bit too aggressive on defense, but this is a good thing as the team has depth, so aggressive defense will often result in more positive than negative outcomes. The team does not rely on him scoring 25 points per game yet, so he can really make his mark on defense.
That sleepy style or “hesi,” which has been so problematic in the areas around finishing at the rim and shooting thus far in his career, really could be a strength in the long run. For a team who has had the wheels fall off periodically in some dramatic collapses in games, Fultz has a style that never seems rushed or panicked. This can be a super valuable mentality for a point guard who can bring calm to a team and avoid long runs against them. I think this will be the key to his long term potential in many ways: can Markelle Fultz make use of that double edged sword of an unhurried and unrushed player to bring calm and ease to his game and to his team? Physically, he has all of the tools; he just needs to add some more deception, timing, and explosion to a solid base.
Purely as a lead guard, Fultz has a very creative handle, and the same “Hesi” that can cause him issues as a scorer has real advantages as a distributor. Fultz has shown chemistry with Simmons and Embiid when it comes to feeding the ball inside and giving bigs easy scoring opportunities. His head is always up, and his confident ease when handling the ball allow him to remain open to finding looks for his teammates.
The obsession with perimeter scoring is perfectly reasonable, but the essential job of a point guard is to play defense, take care of the ball, and find his teammates. Fultz actually grades very well on all those measures. Even as a rookie struggling to adjust to the pace and athleticism of the NBA while fighting his own health issues, Markelle Fultz posted nearly a 3:1 assist to turnover ratio.
When looking at advanced metrics, his 31% assist percentage and 12.4% turnover rate all give true cause for optimism about his ability to consistently compete at the NBA level even on nights where his shot is not falling.
2018-2019 Season Outlook
Projecting stats is always problematic for non first option scorers. Despite Fultz’ pre-draft reputation as a scorer, I would look more for how he fits into the scheme on both ends and how the team performs when he is taking over point guard duties when Simmons takes the bench. Ideally Fultz is able to take over ball handling duties on a possession by possession basis with Simmons on the floor which could unlock some of Simmons’ mismatches on the post and down low against smaller defenders. I have attached the projections that Basketball Reference has made just to give a feel for what an impartial stats organization expects to see.
Markelle Fultz does not have to shoot 36% from 3 as the projection says. What we should expect is that he grows and develops his willingness to take the open shots that present themselves. He will need to keep an opposing defense honest and 29-31% from three (as I projected on the latest Burner podcast) on a reasonable volume will be enough to do that. Look for progressive comfort as well as ease as the year progresses. This is a playoff team and the expectation should be that Markelle Fultz has 82 games and six months to prepare for the postseason.
Minutes per game: 36
Related Story: Simmons and Fultz and the Full 48
Sixers question: Markelle Fultz will have more of which this coming season: @PFOSixers comment below on why.
— J Blevins (@JBlevins46) October 8, 2018
Editor’s Note: Beginning September 27 and continuing up until the start of the season, we will be profiling each member of the current 76ers’ roster. Be sure to check out our schedule below and hear what our writers expect from our Sixers players.
|September 27||Jonah Bolden||October 8||Wilson Chandler|
|September 29||Shake Milton||October 10||Robert Covington|
|September 30||Zhaire Smith||October 11||Dario Saric|
|October 1||Furkan Korkmaz||October 13||JJ Redick|
|October 3||Amir Johnson||October 14||Markelle Fultz|
|October 4||Mike Muscala||October 15||Ben Simmons|
|October 6||Landry Shamet||October 16||Joel Embiid|
|October 7||TJ McConnell|