Washington beat Colorado yesterday and picked up its second win over the first six games of conference play. The Huskies have won just half of their games so far this season and rank 124th in adjusted efficiency margin, according to Ken Pomeroy.
This could be viewed as wildly disappointing when you consider this team has in it the person expected to be picked first overall in the next NBA draft. But I think Dean Demakis did a good job offering context to Markelle Fultz’s lack of success carrying Washington into relevance.
From what I could tell, Fultz just doesn’t have good enough shot making and finishing around him. He plays a team-oriented style and doesn’t force anything, which is great – except for the fact his teammates haven’t played well enough to support his excellence.
On the other end, Washington ranks 249th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Fultz has been a part of the problem in the sense that he hasn’t been as dominant as his combination of physical profile and athleticism suggests he should. But their biggest problems are they foul a ton and don’t rebound very well, which are not really on him.
So when you analyze Fultz from an individual skills-standpoint, it’s actually simple to see why he remains the top prospect on Draft Express’ top 100 despite the fact he will probably miss the NCAA Tournament.
His collection of dribble moves and shot making ability are remarkably impressive for an 18-year-old who will only turn 19 in May.
Fultz doesn’t consistently blow by his man on speed but has a nice handle and a lot of suddenness in his moves to lead his defender into some instability. He can go right or left, crossover his man to shake him off balance, change speeds, pivot into a well-coordinated spin in a pinch and go behind his back to split double teams at the point of attack in the pick-and-roll.
At the basket, he can finish with both power and finesse. Fultz has vertical explosion to elevate off one foot in traffic for some monster dunks and great body control to navigate rim protectors – using his length (six-foot-nine wingspan) for reverse, over-extended and up-and-under finishes and proving himself able to absorb contact and finish through it.
Fults has finished his 90 shots at the basket at a 63.3% clip – according to hoop-math.
He’s even flashed a floater to score from the in-between area when an opponent beats him to the spot and prevents him from getting all the way to the basket and draws contact very well despite the fact he doesn’t have that big a frame (six-foot-four, 185 pounds), as he’s averaged 7.9 foul shots per 40 minutes – according to basketball-reference.
But what Fultz truly does expertly well is pulling up from mid-range, with over 45% of his field goal attempts coming on two-point jumpers. He initiates contact to create separation, can step-back or side-step in rhythm to neutralize how well his defender can contest him, elevates with great balance, fully extends himself for a high point in his release and has great touch on his shot, nailing 44.3% of them so far this season.
In impressive fashion, Fultz has made some of these step-back pull-ups from the college three-point line out of middle high pick-and-roll. And he’s also flashed the ability to take smaller guards into the post as well and hit turnaround fade-away jumpers over them.
Perhaps just as key is the fact Fultz doesn’t need to monopolize possession of the ball to be effective, as he’s proven himself an above average catch-and-shoot gunner spacing the floor as a weak-side threat. Fultz has a quick release and can easily get his shot off before a closeout can affect him, nailing 40.3% of his three-point shots this season.
He can also play above the rim as a target for lobs cutting baseline behind the defense.
Fultz might be just as great a shot creator for others as he’s a scorer himself.
As mentioned above, he plays a team-oriented style, passing ahead in transition to speed up the pace of the game and pretty much never pounding a hole into the ground or looking off a teammate.
Fultz handles traffic attacking the lane out of pick-and-roll very well, often maneuvering his way around defenders as if he were in a traffic cone drill and keeping his dribble alive waiting for slower developing passing lanes to come open.
He has shown pretty great feel for sucking in the help and finding teammates out of dribble penetration, assisting on 35.3% of Washington’s scores when he’s been on the floor – usually on simple drop-offs and kick-outs to shooters spot-up on the strong-side.
Washington doesn’t space the floor particularly well but Fultz has flashed the ability to make passes across his body to the opposite end of the floor and can see over the top of average-sized point guards, so he projects as a perfect fit for a conventional pick-and-roll-driven offense.
Fultz has averaged 3.4 turnovers per 40 minutes, which is not great, but his 12.9% turnover rate is not that problematic in the context of his 31% usage rate.
As it tends to be the case with most teenagers, Fultz is not consistently engaged in half-court defense at all times, rarely keeping his stance away from the ball. But he has an elite physical profile for his position and can be reasonably expected to develop into least an average defender in time.
Fultz has the quickness to run shooters off the three-point line and the length to contest shots effectively as a weak-side defender, if he needs to be hidden off the ball or picks up wings on switches – which he could become a viable option to do regularly but probably needs to fill out his frame some more first.
But Fultz should be more of a difference maker defending opposing point guards on the ball. He has the reach to pick their pockets, has flashed the ability to navigate over screens and use his length as a threat to contest shots or deflect passes tracking his man from behind, though he’s mostly lacked the urgency needed to make these plays.
Nothing can be said about his urgency in transition, however, as Fultz has a number of chase-down blocks to show for his effort not giving up on plays. And he’s also leveraged his athleticism on the glass, collecting 13.5% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor – which is an excellent mark for a point guard.
According to basketball-reference, Fultz has the best defensive rating on the team among rotation players.
 Though his usage rate has gone up some in conference play, which has dragged his efficiency down against this higher level of competition
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara