One of the great feats of evolution is the development of ambergris, a waxy substance that forms in the stomach of the Sperm Whale. This allows it to eat one of its favorite treats, the Giant Squid, without the squid’s beak tearing its insides apart. Similarly to Sperm Whales, Sixers fans have developed an irrational confidence about Markelle Fultz, which helps us continue to consume NBA basketball without having the success of Jayson Tatum run through us like a blade.
Last week, Sixers fans were given some reasons to keep that confidence high, as Markelle Fultz was not only seen playing in one of Drew Hanlen’s Pure Sweat Runs (something Hanlen has previously said he doesn’t allow players rehabbing their jump shot to do), but Mr. Fultz also gave the closest look yet at the progress of his jumper with this Instagram post.
With all the talk surrounding what he could be with a fixed jumper, I decided to dust off my 2017 NBA Draft scouting reports and revisit what we saw from Markelle Fultz during his lone season at Washington that made him the consensus #1 overall pick a year ago.
Markelle Fultz, Guard, 6’4’’ (6’10’’ Wingspan)
Very aware of what is going on around him on the court, including the movement of his teammates and the wandering eyes of opponents. Take a look at the clip below – as he comes off the ball screen, Fultz is flanked by two teammates diving towards the rim, and he catches Lauri Markkanen getting lost in his defensive coverage. Fultz delivers a pinpoint bounce pass through traffic.
He had an impressive assist percentage of 35.5%, especially considering how poorly his teammates shot the ball – only two other Washington players with over 100 attempts from deep shot over 35%. He often was able to set up teammates for looks and rack up assists by just making the simple pass coming off a ball screen.
One reason Fultz was able to pick up assists like the one above is because of the threat he represents as a scorer on all three levels of offense. Playing as a PnR ball handler, Fultz can pull up from any distance, drive and use his 6’10’’ wingspan to finish in the lane, or kick it to teammate for an open 3 or layup.
Fultz checks all the boxes necessary of a lead offensive guard. His combination of shot creation and tight dribble is makes him a weapon in halfcourt sets and end of clock situations.
Watching Fultz glide towards the rim is truly mesmerizing. He uses an array of dribble moves on his way to the hoop – he can freeze a defender at the top of the key with his hang dribble hesitation move or toss them in the blender with a spin move. He is not the fastest player in the world, but he uses elite change of speed and his strong leaping ability to make up for that lack of elite speed.
Fultz is also a terror in transition, he can thread passes to his teammates or finish above the rim. Like the rest of his offensive game, he is polished, well rounded, and patient in transition.
While Fultz seemingly has the tools to become a good perimeter defender in the NBA, he has yet to put it all together. He is often criticized for losing focus and for lack of effort; he can also sometimes struggle with his defensive fundamentals. In the clip below, not only does Fultz get caught ball-watching and lose track of his assignment, his footwork and close out technique is poor, allowing Lonzo Ball to drive right by him into the paint.
Many chalk up his poor defensive performances to the fact that his team at Washington this year only won 9 games, but there are certainly issues that go beyond just effort and focus. He relies too heavily on his length to make plays defensively rather than getting into a proper defensive stance, and as the clip above showed, he will take unnecessary risks reaching off ball and find himself in no man’s land.
His length does, however, pose problems for the defense, as he can be disruptive stunting off ball to cause turnovers. He is quick to start the break off of a steal.
His length can also lead to blocked shots, especially chase down blocks in transition – a speciality of Fultz, who averaged over a block per game in his lone college season.
Aside from a functioning jump shot, Markelle has shown us everything else in his game that made him the #1 pick 14 months ago. And although he was eventually usurped by TJ McConnell for the backup point guard minutes in the playoff rotation, his performance after returning from his 68 game absence was certainly impressive.
He will, however, need the jumper to reach his potential and become the third star that the Sixers hoped he would be. September 28th is coming, but for now we’ll just have to hold still shots from Instagram close to our hearts.