All in On Markelle Fultz


Markelle Fultz didn’t seem like a possibility a month ago for the 76ers. The final trade parameters are official, or at least reported as such, the 76ers send the third overall 2017 pick and the 1, 6-30 protected Lakers 2018 pick. If the pick falls 2-5 next May, the Celtics get the pick. If the pick falls anywhere else, the 76ers have to send a top-1 protected 2019 Kings pick. It’s a strange trade, provided the protections, but it definitely helps Philly that at least one of those beautiful assets will stay in Philadelphia. And keeping that pick if it miraculously becomes the top pick was essential for Colangelo.

Thank goodness that Luka Doncic is still a possibility in 2018.  Sam Hinkie made those Lakers and Kings picks happen. This is why Hinkie did this. Moving up to draft the best player in the draft became possible because of Hinkie. The Celtics weren’t interested in Los Angeles’s established players like Julius Randle. They wanted drafted picks, and that’s something Philly had. Some people might not think that much of Fultz. Some people might think the Lakers and Kings picks could be even more franchise-changing guys. But Fultz is a smooth scorer capable of playing on or off ball who distributed the ball at a better rate than Lonzo Ball even. Admittedly late night Washington Huskies basketball games weren’t consistently on my television this winter (actually college basketball outside of St. Bonaventure rarely was on my television). I did, however, watch highlight after highlight. Fultz is a stud, and there’s no denying the excitement of adding him to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

Fultz never made the NCAA tournament. Embiid was hurt before the conference tournament began. Simmons preferred making a Showtime documentary than winning games his lone college season. Naysayers will correctly say Embiid’s played 31 games in three seasons. Simmons missed his entire rookie season. Fultz’ team somehow won fewer games than the 2015-2016 76ers.

There’s no certainty Embiid remains anywhere near healthy the rest of this career, but the trade still makes a ton of sense for Philadelphia. Simmons is considered this superstar potential with his passing ability. The problem, however, was going to always be: how could Philadelphia build around him? Surround Simmons with shooters was an obvious solution, but that’s easier said than done. Most 19-20 year-olds can’t shoot. Even the ones who did in college struggle during stretches of their NBA careers. Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, De’Aaron Fox are wonderful prospects. But did either of them really fit next to Simmons? Fultz does. And all of sudden, Philadelphia has back-to-back top picks.

Bryan Colangelo deserves a ton of credit for facilitating the trade. Yes, Hinkie made this a possibility, but Colangelo played a major role in the completion of it. Colangelo had a fantastic draft last June. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot played superb basketball towards the end of the season. He appears to project as a capable wing on both sides of the court. Furkan Korkmaz will get a boatload of open looks playing alongside Fultz and Simmons. Trading Nerlens Noel for Justin Anderson and second-round picks hurts, but it’s clear Noel simply wasn’t part of the future, and that’s fine. The core isn’t completed, of course, but the pieces that Colangelo has delivered demonstrate the 76ers future. And it’s brighter than T.J. Henderson.

The dynamic of Fultz and Simmons will be an interesting one to watch. Simmons has a bonus in his Nike contract if he wins Rookie of the Year. I’m sure Fultz has a similar bonus. Both want the team to do well, of course, but nobody knows how they’ll handle a situation where each is fighting for Rookie of the Year come March. Fultz can play off ball. He won’t be required to bring the ball up all the time. But now Simmons won’t be the full-time point guard, it appears. Fultz and Simmons, you’d hope, will get along wonderfully, especially given their specific skill sets. Defense remains a bigger question, however. The offense will come with time, but the defensive effort Fultz gave during his season as a Huskie was disappointing to say the least. Personally, I don’t think it’s an issue, because Fultz has the athletic ability to defend point guards at the next level. And also who really cares if Fultz can’t defend consistently if Embiid is fully healthy? But the reality is, Embiid isn’t guaranteed to be healthy, and Philly will need Fultz to make at least some strides on defense. He shouldn’t be liability due to his height, that’s for sure, but teams took advantage of Harden during some of his disastrous defensive seasons. Markelle’s wingspan is 6-10, which is an inch or so shy of Harden’s.

The roster construction the rest of the summer will be fascinating, because Philly has a ton of cap space. Kyle Lowry won’t be a 76er, but maybe acquiring Fultz gives J.J. Redick a path to sign in Philadelphia. Maybe Patty Mills. The Sixers picked up Robert Covington’s option for this season. They can still extend him come this Fall. Covington, it appears, has done enough to warrant a long-term commitment from the 76ers. But Colangelo could have other plans. Danilo Gallinari and Rudy Gay are free agent wings, along with Otto Porter Jr., who could entice the 76ers. If the 76ers do give large sums of money to either, the fan base will have a major issue. Covington, the relatively homegrown player, has improved immensely on defense over the last three years. He struggled to shoot from three in the early part of last season, but he should thrive alongside Fultz.

Brett Brown is a major winner in this move. The flexibility he has now moving forward should put a smile upon his face. Simmons and Fultz will definitely start together, but Brown has options to take one out earlier in the first quarter, and let the other get the keys to operate the offense. It’s going to be absolutely fascinating to watch how Brown coaches this team moving forward with star-level talent. The star-level talent, however, remains in the infant stages, so the next two-three years are critical. The player development is just beginning. Simmons has a long way to go in order to be an average shooter. Even though Fultz appeared to effortlessly shoot about 40 percent from three last year, the NBA three’s a different animal. NBA spacing is a real, tangible thing that should greatly benefit Fultz as he moves to the next level, but there’s clear things he needs to improve.

Fultz is an easy player to enjoy watching. DraftExpress does an incredible job of breaking down players, so give their strengths and weaknesses videos on Fultz a view. Two profiles done over the last two months really demonstrate Fultz as a person. Andrew Sharp, of Sports Illustrated, wrote this in April. Adam Himmelsbach, of the Boston Globe, wrote this earlier in the week, thinking Fultz would be a Celtic. The profiles detail Fultz and the relationship he has with his mother. Fultz stayed committed to Washington, even after the Kentucky’s and North Carolina’s of the world expressed interest, because the Huskies were the first major program to offer him a scholarship. He played JV ball as a sophomore, but one of the Washington assistant coaches said at the time he thought Fultz would be an NBA player if he grew. Fultz, 5-9 as a sophomore, grew to 6-3 his senior year. He’s supposedly 6-4 now.

June 22 had this feeling of uncertainty. A week before the draft and Malik Monk was the only top prospect to work out with the 76ers. Then Fox worked out for the 76ers Saturday morning. It didn’t matter Philly didn’t bring any other top prospects in. The discussion of Jonathan Isaac, Jackson, Tatum, etc. seem irrelevant now. Saturday night Fultz entered the 76ers practice facility rocking a 76ers hat. June 22 now has a certainty. It’s Fultz time in Philadelphia.

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