Three days before the 2017 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers traded the third overall pick and a future first to secure the No. 1 overall pick. By moving up, the 76ers secured the rights to guard Markelle Fultz of Washington, effectively completing the preliminary phase of ‘The Process,’ or so they thought.
At just 20 years old, Fultz’s inaugural season left fans dumbfounded. He appeared in only 14 games, putting up a lackluster average of 7.1 points, 3.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 18 minutes per night. Between an undisclosed shoulder injury, his unstable role, a change of shot mechanics and the breakout of Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons, Fultz suffered through a tumultuous and unsteady rookie year. Months removed from the Sixers’ playoff loss to Boston, all signs indicate that an offseason of hard work and clarity have put Fultz on track to return his former self.
Dubbed the leader of the Washington Huskies, Fultz dominated PAC-12 competition with unspeakable scoring and creativity as a point guard. Embodying the ideal combination of athletic ability and skill, many have noted Fultz as the most dominant college player of the past decade. In spite of his surrounding cast, or lack thereof, Markelle put up an unfathomable statline of 23.2 points per game on 47.6 percent shooting and 41.3 percent from behind the arc.
Fultz paired his unparalleled scoring talent with a well-rounded skill set. In analyzing the top picks of the 2017 draft class, Fultz was considered by many as the second best playmaker of the group outside of the second pick, Lonzo Ball. His ability to find teammates off the drive and execute pick-and-rolls were expected to translate directly to the pros. With a 6’10 wingspan and impressive hops, Fultz enticed scouts by working hard on his rebounding. He averaged 5.7 rebounds per game as a 19-year old Freshman.
As a prospect, there was nothing Fultz couldn’t do. His draft stock rose throughout the season as he proved himself as an NBA-ready athlete. While the college season came to a close and the draft process began, Fultz drew comps to a young Russell Westbrook because of his shocking athleticism and raw potential. Philadelphia saw a future where Markelle Fultz lived up to his ceiling and became one of the best guards in the NBA.
It wasn’t an ideal rookie season for Markelle Fultz by any means. It’s not everyday that a player completely forgets how to shoot a basketball for a considerable amount of time. Whether it was a personal choice or an effect of injury is left to Fultz and those involved, but what truly matters is where his career goes from here.
On April 11, 2018, Fultz gave the 76ers a glimpse at the player they fell in love with 10 months prior when he became the youngest player to log a triple-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in only 25 minutes. In a Cinderella season, this was the highlight of the Sixers’ year as the team rejoiced around their young guard. A healthy and NBA-ready Fultz is a terrifying concept for the Eastern Conference. After jumping 24 spots in the win column between 2017 and 2018, Philadelphia hopes to add another transcendent talent to their roster with Fultz back to his old self.
In a recent segment on The Bill Simmons Podcast, rookie phenom Jayson Tatum gave insight to Fultz’s offseason after training alongside him. “He’s looking good, he’s getting better,” Tatum said. “I’m excited for him because obviously he wants to play and he wants to get out there and show people what he can do, and I’m excited about it.” If things pan out and Fultz returns to the monstrous prospect he was just a year ago, Philadelphia will add another crucial cog to one of the most impressive offensive units in basketball.
Remember, Ben Simmons missed his entire rookie year and returned a composed All-Star caliber talent. Philly has a long history of rookies facing injury and returning as superstars. Maybe it’s all just a part of the process?