Markelle Fultz enters the season as the top prospect in the 2017 NBA draft, according to Draft Express. After finishing his high school career ranked seventh by ESPN in his class, Fultz impressed over the summer with his appearances at the Nike Hoop Summit and the FIBA Americas U18 in Valdivia, where he earned MVP honors.
He’s considered a very appealing prospect due to his combination of size, reasonable athletic ability and a diverse enough (for this point of his development) skill-set. With that sort of profile, Fultz is envisioned as the perfect perimeter player for this modern era of basketball; one who can create a shot but also remain a threat off the ball while guarding multiple types on defense.
ON THE BALL
Though he was not tasked with running offense on an every possession-basis at DeMatha or with the United States Junior National Team, Fultz has proven himself able to create shots for himself and others against a set defense consistently. He’s projected, at this point, as a lead ball handler at the pro level.
Fultz is not a speed demon but has exhibited pretty good quickness playing downhill and turning the corner out of high pick-and-roll, while also flashing the ability to play with pace and patience waiting for driving lanes to clear against hedges, hard shows or half-traps.
He has burst to attack the basket with explosiveness elevating out of one foot unimpeded on a straight path to the goal and can adjust his body in the air to finish around length, though his touch on non-dunk finishes is only OK as of now and he’s not yet able to finish through contact.
Fultz has also not yet developed craftiness seeking contact on his dribble drives, which he needs in order to get whistles since his frame isn’t that big at 186 pounds in the context of six-foot-four height, earning just five free throws in five appearances in Valdivia and nine foul shots in four games at last year’s Adidas Nations.
In terms of creating for others, Fultz is not a pass-first point guard but has proven in every event he’s participated that he’s very willing to accomodate his teammates.
Fultz is not one of those passers who anticipate passing lanes a second before they come open but has displayed great court vision on the move, not just spotting baseline cutters but also making crosscourt passes across his body to weak-side shooters stationed on the opposite end of the floor. His six-foot-four height gives him a great vantage point over opposing point guards.
According to RealGM, Fultz assisted on 38.5% of the United State’s scores when he was on the floor in the U18 FIBA Americas. That’s an appealing figure, especially considering he’s not reckless in his attempts to get those assists. Fultz averaged four turnovers per 40 minutes in this tournament but that was mostly a result of travel calls, which Americans tend to struggle with in FIBA events.
In isolation, Fultz has a diverse arsenal of moves to get where he wants to go on the court with either hand and get a quality shot off, able to hit opponents with crossovers, spin moves and hesitation moves in order to get by them. When they’ve managed to keep pace with him side-to-side, Fultz has unleashed a smooth-looking pull-up jump-shot from mid-range, rising up with great balance, if not necessarily with the quickest of triggers.
OFF THE BALL
Not just alongside high profile peers within his age group with the United States Junior National Team but even at DeMatha, which had Ryan Allen and DJ Harvey for him to share the ball with, Fultz has shown he can operate as a credible weak-side threat.
He’s mostly only a capable catch-and-shoot open shot shooter at this point of his development, nailing just six of his 18 three-point shots in the FIBA Americas U18. His release is a bit methodical but his mechanics look like they will only need to be polished rather than reworked for him to reach average status, not just from the corner but from above the break as well, and the touch on his shot looks pretty great often.
But what he already does at an elite level working the second side is attacking off the catch, against a bent defense, where he’s shown an explosive first step to blow by opponents and get into the lane in a blur. There, Fultz has athletic ability to finish against rim protection waiting for him at the basket and court vision to assist spot-up shooters, as mentioned above.
As it tends to be the case with teenagers, Fultz’s effort on defense comes and goes.
Fully engaged at the Nike Hoop Summit, he looked like a potential shutdown defender, getting in a stance and showcasing lateral quickness to stay in front and strength to contain dribble penetration through contact. He was very attentive to his help defense responsibilities rotating inside, not just to take up space and crowd driving lanes but proving himself willing to draw charges and exploding out of two feet to block a shot at the basket.
Yet Chileans and Canadians got by him quite a few times in Valdivia, as he typically didn’t get in a stance and didn’t put in a lot of effort to contain dribble penetration. Fultz also tends to struggle navigating though screens, not just freeing himself of picks on the ball but also losing track of shooters working around traffic.
Fultz’s combination of size and athletic ability provides him an opportunity to be an impact defender, though, even when his individual defense isn’t up to expectations. Using his six-foot-nine wingspan to make plays in the passing lanes, he averaged 5.8 steals per 40 minutes. Strong enough to boxout taller players at that level, Fultz also pitched in to finish possessions by collecting 12.5% of opponents’ misses. As a consequence, his individual defensive rating was the second best in the tournament, per RealGM.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara