Tag Archives: Markelle Fultz

Jonny Be Good

If not for the strongest point guard crop since 2009, the story of the upcoming NBA draft would be the talented and versatile freshman forwards Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, Jonathan Isaac, and Miles Bridges. While Jackson (8.0 DMX), Tatum (7.7), and Bridges (7.0) have met or even exceeded lofty expectations, the real standout in my numbers has been Isaac (9.8), a wiry 6’10” combo forward with tantalizing two-way potential. After 27 NCAA games, Isaac grades out as the fourth best forward prospect since 2002, edging out Blake Griffin, Chris Bosh, and Ben Simmons. That begs the question, is Jonathan Isaac truly an elite prospect?

It is easy to see why the numbers adore Isaac. He is tall, young (19.7 years old on draft day), efficient, rebounds like a PF or C (11.2 REB/40), and has an elite combination of steals (1.8 Per 40) and blocks (2.3 Per 40). His only blemish statistically is a low assist rate, which is offset in the model by a relatively low turnover %. Moreover, he has done this in arguably the toughest conference in the NCAA and has helped the Seminoles to a #18 KenPom rating, up thirty spots from #48 last season.

Passing

Let’s go back to Isaac’s one conceivable red flag; his lack of assists. Between his statistical brilliance, age, tools, and team success, it seems pretty obvious that Jonathan Isaac is good. The question is whether or not Isaac is a prospect on the level of Bosh or Griffin as his projection suggests, and his passing may be a deal-breaker to that end.

In the NBA, passing the is skill that often differentiates the great from the good. This is pretty intuitive; players who are elite at creating for themselves and also for teammates are completely unstoppable. Since BPM is generally a good measurement of the value of NBA players, here is a list of the top 13 players by BPM along with their AST% this season:

PLAYER AST%
Russell Westbrook 56.5%
James Harden 50.7%
Chris Paul 49.7%
Giannis Antetokounmpo 26.5%
LeBron James 41.7%
Kevin Durant 22.6%
Nikola Jokic 27.3%
Draymond Green 28.3%
Kawhi Leonard 17.7%
DeMarcus Cousins 28.0%
Kyle Lowry 29.2%
Stephen Curry 28.8%
Jimmy Butler 23.3%
Jonathan Isaac 6.8%*

*NCAA

Only Kawhi Leonard, the league’s best perimeter defender and a ruthlessly efficient offensive player, has an AST% under 20%. Even if you expand the list to 50, the only non-center with an AST% lower than 10% is Otto Porter, who is leading the NBA in 3PT% and was an A:TO stud at Georgetown.

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-11-39-24-am

Historically great DMX projection aside, Isaac seems unlikely to achieve NBA superstardom barring a Durant-like leap as a passer (note: Isaac ain’t KD on offense). Markelle Fultz, a supremely talented offensive creator (Westbrook/Harden), and Lonzo Ball, an outlier passer and basketball genius (Paul/Curry), have far clearer, if still mathematically unlikely, paths to being top ten players. Even Josh Jackson (18.6 AST%) is still drawing live to be Jimmy Butler 2.0. Jonathan Isaac projects as a better version of Marvin Williams, a former #2 overall pick who has had a solid career as a stretch four and versatile rim-protector. I wouldn’t draft Isaac over Fultz, Ball, or Jackson, but he has played himself into my top five in a loaded class.

The New Guard

Since the NBA raised its age limit to 19, NCAA “one-and-done” players have defined the top of the draft; from Oden and Durant, to Simmons vs. Ingram. Much like the 2014 draft was headlined by a crop of freshmen big men, this year’s class is rich in one particular resource: point guards.

Markelle Fultz
Position: PG
Height: 6’4”
School: Washington

If you are an avid reader of Hardwood Blues, you already know about Markelle Fultz, who I called the “best PG prospect since Kyrie Irving” before he had played a college game. Now that I have seen him at the NCAA level, there is no need to hold back; Fultz is a sure-fire stud and the obvious #1 overall pick. In broad strokes, Fultz reminds me of a subdued version of Russell Westbrook. He is a big, athletic point guard, an explosive scorer, a plus passer, and an aggressive albeit undisciplined defender.

When you consider that Fultz is literally twice as good as freshman-year Russ despite being a late bloomer in his own right, it wouldn’t shock me if he became an even better pro than Westbrook. This may seem crazy given that Westbrook is currently stuffing the box score at an historic rate, but it’s not like he’s the best player in the NBA. He’s not even the best point guard- Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, and James Harden are all clearly better in my opinion. A player with the aesthetics of Russell Westbrook and functional value closer to Chris Paul or Steph Curry could rule the NBA, and represents a far higher upside than any other prospect in this year’s draft.

Lonzo Ball
Position: PG
Height: 6’6”
School: UCLA

UCLA is college basketball’s most fascinating team. The unbeaten Bruins are loaded with offensive talent, play an entertaining, up-tempo style, and have a budding defensive anchor in Ike Anigbogu. The main event is Lonzo Ball (pictured), a 6-foot-6 Jason Kidd wannabe from Chino Hills, CA who drains cockeyed three-pointers from the parking lot.

Ball is definitely fun to watch, but whether or not he’ll actually be good in the NBA is still up for debate. He is not a good defensive player, which is where the (inevitable) Kidd comparison falls flat, and he struggles to score in the half-court when he’s not dropping bombs over the defense, in part because of shooting mechanics that…need work. In spite of that, I am a believer in Lonzo. He has a special skill-level and feel for the game and boasts a track record of leading dominant and exciting teams in high school and now in college. Ball’s flaws make him far inferior to Markelle Fultz, but he’s somewhere in my top five overall.

Dennis Smith Jr.
Position: PG
Height: 6’3”
School: NC State

Relative to expectations, Dennis Smith has been the most disappointing member of this freshman class. Something that hurts Smith in relation to Fultz and Ball, who possess outlier size and abilities, is that he is very cookie-cutter point guard. Unless he is still shaking off the after-affects of knee surgery (a distinct possibility), he is not a Derrick Rose/Eric Bledsoe-level athlete as advertised, and he doesn’t have any other plus skills that I can identify. Smith will likely get it going and improve his standing statistically (currently 14th overall in DMX, behind OK State’s Jawun Evans), but as of now there’s no way I’m taking him over Ball, and he’s not even in the same stratosphere as Fultz.

De’Aaron Fox
Position: PG
Height: 6’3”
School: Kentucky

Fox is far and away the best defender of the group, most notably getting the better of Lonzo Ball in their head-to-head matchup at Rupp Arena. De’Aaron is long, quick, and active and has flashy passing skills. Since I’m talking about him last, you already know what’s coming: he can’t shoot. As I’ve stated before, I have a soft spot for this prototype, probably to a fault.

PLAYER AGE PTS REB AST STL BLK TOV DMX
De’Aaron Fox 19.5 18.1 6.5 8.2 2.0 0.4 2.9 6.7
Kris Dunn 22.3 15.9 6.4 7.3 2.7 0.5 4.2 5.9
Elfrid Payton 20.3 16.9 6.0 5.8 2.3 0.6 4.0 5.2
Marcus Smart 20.3 19.3 6.8 5.2 3.4 0.7 3.3 9.3

Kris Dunn, Elfrid Payton, and Marcus Smart are all players who I enjoy, but they haven’t shown to be particularly useful in the NBA and you could argue that all three were over-drafted. Smart has the most optimistic outlook, and he projected far better than Fox coming out of college. Fox is a solid mid first-rounder.

FIBA’s Finest 2016

When Kevin Durant and Team USA took the podium to receive their gold medals, it marked not only the end of the Olympics, but of a summer of FIBA tournaments. Beginning with the U17 Worlds in June and concluding with Saturday’s thrilling U16 European championship game, the best young players from across the globe have been competing for their junior national teams in small-scale versions of the Rio games. Here is a breakdown of some of the standout performers, along with their early DMX grades (the complete model for reference):

1st TEAM

G: Markelle Fultz (USA)
FIBA Exp.: 109 minutes (2016 U18 Americas)
FIBA DMX: 13.3

Another small sample size, another shroud of evidence that Markelle Fultz is the best PG prospect since Kyrie Irving. Fultz has moved to #1 in DraftExpress’ 2017 mock draft, in part due to his dominant play at the U18 Americas tournament. I captured some of his finest moments for your enjoyment.

G: Collin Sexton (USA)
FIBA Exp.: 113 minutes (2016 U17 Worlds)
FIBA DMX: 9.1

If I had to pick a star-making performance of the FIBA junior national games, I’d lean towards Collin Sexton (pictured) in the U17 championship game against Turkey. In a 20-minute adrenaline rush, the 6-footer scored 16 points (8-9 FG) and dished out 8 assists. Beyond the box score, Sexton plays with an energy, flair, and fearlessness from the point guard position that is distinctly Westbrook-ian.

F: Dzanan Musa (Bosnia)
FIBA Exp.: 876 minutes (2014 U16 Euros, 2015 U16 Euros, 2016 U17 Worlds)
FIBA DMX: 7.2

Dzanan Musa played the role of one-man team for a Bosnian squad that likely wouldn’t have qualified for the tournament without him. Musa, a highly skilled offensive player, was mostly up to the task, including a 50-point outburst against Chinese Taipei. After three FIBA tournaments and a 2016 season in which he appeared in Euroleague at age 16, Musa is one of the highest rated international prospects in the world (6.8 DMX overall).

F: Michael Porter Jr. (USA)
FIBA Exp.: 105 (2016 U18 Americas)
FIBA DMX: 10.7

Young Michael Porter Jr. looked the part of a future #1 pick, putting on a show alongside Markelle Fultz in the U18s. Porter is a futuristic prototype; a 6’10” forward who can handle, shoot threes (6-20 3PT), and explode for transition dunks. With Porter already in tow for next year’s recruiting class, Washington’s Lorenzo Romar may have bagged the #1 pick in back-to-back years.

C: Usman Garuba (Spain)
FIBA Exp.: 203 minutes (2016 U16 Euros)
FIBA DMX: 8.7

Spain’s Usman Garuba took U16 MVP honors and had one of the most dominant FIBA runs of the summer by anyone not on Team USA…as a 14-year old. One can’t help but question the validity of Garuba’s birth certificate, given how big and good he is, although this would be an unnecessarily bold lie. Either way, Garuba is a stellar defender, rebounder, and finisher who could develop into a Tristan Thompson type.

2nd TEAM

G: Troy Brown (USA)
FIBA Exp.: 166 minutes (2016 U17 Worlds)
FIBA DMX: 8.8

Brown is not a great scorer at this stage, but he was arguably Team USA’s best all-around player in the U17 Worlds. At 6’6”, Brown has the versatility to run the offense (5.1 assists per 40 minutes) or play alongside smaller guards like Collin Sexton and Markus Howard.

G: R.J. Barrett (Canada)
FIBA Exp.: 307 minutes (2015 U16 Americas, 2016 U17 Worlds)
FIBA DMX: 4.7

Just a rising sophomore at Montverde Basketball Factory, Barrett profiles similarly to the last big thing out of Canada, Andrew Wiggins. Barrett is an athletic, five-star swingman without any particular outlier skills. For what it’s worth, R.J. has outperformed Wiggins at the FIBA level:

PLAYER FIBA Exp. PTS REB AST STL BLK TOV DMX
R.J. Barrett 307 minutes 26.3 7.2 3.1 1.4 0.8 4.0 4.7
Andrew Wiggins 289 minutes 20.0 7.3 1.8 1.0 1.8 3.2 3.2

F: P.J. Washington (USA)
FIBA Exp.: 89 minutes (2016 U18 Americas)
FIBA DMX: 9.1

Like Troy Brown, Washington was an un-celebrated role player with an absurd small sample size DMX. Washington, who possesses impressive court vision for a teenaged big man, picked up eight assists and nine steals in less than 90 minutes of court time.

F: Lauri Markkanen (Finland)
FIBA Exp.: 818 minutes (2013 U16B Euros, 2014 U18B Euros, 2015 U18 Euros, 2016 U20 Euros)
FIBA DMX: 7.1

It was tough to leave Markkanen off the first team in favor of Musa, who I couldn’t in good conscious pass off as a guard. The best hooper from Finland in who knows how long, Lauri will try to carry the momentum of a big summer into a highly anticipated freshman year at Arizona.

C: Wendell Carter Jr. (USA)
FIBA Exp.: 217 minutes (2015 U16 Americas, 2016 U17 Worlds)
FIBA DMX: 7.7

The biggest difference between USA Basketball and other countries at the junior level are man-children like Wendell Carter Jr., who has been a dominant scorer and rebounder for two gold medal squads.

New Guys By The Numbers 2016

1. Markelle Fultz
6’4” PG
Washington
DMX: 10.2
DMX Comp: D’Angelo Russell (9.6)

In what could go down as a historically great point guard class, Markelle Fultz stands head and shoulders above the rest and is my early prediction to become the number one draft pick in 2017. Markelle’s projected 10.2 DMX is the third best for a point or combo guard since 2002 behind only Ricky Rubio and Kyrie Irving. He also edges Ben Simmons (9.9 DMX) for the status of “best prospect in the world”. This is based on a very small sample size even relative to his peers, but I still think it is noteworthy for several reasons. For one, it’s exceptionally hard to amass a double-digit DMX in a sample size > one game. Roughly 99% of the players in my model, many of whom are teenagers with samples similar to Fultz, have a DMX between 1-10. Fultz’s stats include games a year apart, in gyms in Garden Grove, CA and Brooklyn, so I think they hold some weight. Most importantly, his profile and eye test back up the projection of a future star PG.

Markelle is one of the youngest players in his class, has off-the-charts measurements for a PG (6’4”, 6’9” wingspan), explosive athleticism, a smooth jump shot, and creative passing skills. He was among the most buzzed-about players by scouts and NBA people over the last month, and for good reason. Fultz is not on top of draft boards yet, but the consensus is warming to him and I sense the movement has already begun. Basically, I see Markelle as the ‘17 version of D’Angelo Russell in a class without a Karl Towns.

2. Harry Giles III
6’10” PF/C
Duke
DMX: 7.3
DMX Comp: Myles Turner (7.6)

Giles is the one player besides Fultz with enough hypothetical upside to draft #1. HGIII didn’t get a chance to participate in the all-star circuit because of an ACL tear (his second in high school) that kept him sidelined all season. I would have liked to see him play against the other top bigs in his class, but between his projection, #1 recruiting ranking, and a quick YouTube browse he seems like the real deal. His injury history casts a dark cloud over what is an otherwise sparkling PF/C prospect. Giles has the two-way versatility that is increasingly valuable in big men as the small-ball revolution has phased out big, plodding centers. If he stays healthy and sharpens his skills at Duke, Giles should be a top-three lock.

3. Josh Jackson
6’7” SG/SF
Kansas
DMX: 6.9
DMX Comp: Stanley Johnson (7.1)

Josh Jackson has been billed as a potential #1 pick upon making his much-anticipated commitment to Kansas. He is a legit two-way wing player that is particularly good defensively, but he doesn’t seem special enough to be a top pick. He’s also the same age as some of the one-and-done guys this year, so he will have to be treated as an NCAA sophomore. Short of Josh looking like the second coming of Jimmy Butler, I think he will settle in somewhere in the top five. By the way, since I’ve seen this being discussed, I wouldn’t be worried about Jackson’s decision to play for Bill Self hurting his production. Self’s last three big shot wing prospects (Oubre, Wiggins, Xavier Henry) are all in the ~ 90th percentile of DMX.

4. Dennis Smith
6’2” PG
North Carolina State
DMX: 7.9
DMX Comp: Jay Williams (8.3)

Like Giles, Dennis Smith was unfortunately missing from the all-star games with injury. Smith is projected better than the other scoring point guards so this seems like a good place for him. If Cat Barber enters the draft, Smith with have a chance to put up big numbers as a freshman.

5. Jayson Tatum
6’8” SF
Duke
DMX: 7.8
DMX Comp: Luol Deng (7.6)

On paper, Tatum looks like a Jabari Parker-type scoring combo forward, but it’s apparent that he lacks Parker’s strength and burst. He reminds me more of Otto Porter, a fantastic college player and DMX stud (8.5), than a future superstar forward. He will join a loaded Duke roster that ESPN’s John Gasaway called “D-I’s strongest roster in years”. Duke will boast four top-20 DMX players in the 2017 draft class: Tatum, Giles, Grayson Allen (5.9), and Luke Kennard (5.5). The only other team with that distinction was 2006 UNC (Marvin Williams, Rashad McCants, Sean May, Raymond Felton), who won the NCAA championship.

6. Lonzo Ball
6’5” PG
UCLA
DMX: 7.8
DMX Comp: Michael Carter-Williams (7.5)

The most interesting man of the McDonald’s game (where he set the assists record), Lonzo Ball is part Jason Kidd, part Kendall Marshall with a range of NBA outcomes falling anywhere in between. Ball is one of the best 18 year-old passers you will ever see. At 6’5” he can see the court and is remarkably intelligent, skilled, and unselfish. If his high school stats are any indication, Lonzo could push a triple-double per 40 minutes at UCLA, and is a lock to break stat models like former Bruins Kyle Anderson (7.5 DMX) and Jordan Adams (9.2 DMX) did a few years back. The hang up for Ball is his hideous jump shot and concerns over him being a scoring threat at the next level. I think he is unique enough to make do.

7. Malik Monk
6’3” PG
Kentucky
DMX: 7.3
DMX Comp: Jerryd Bayless (7.4)

8. De’Aaron Fox
6’3” PG
Kentucky
DMX: 6.4
DMX Comp: Jrue Holiday (7.0)

9. Bam Adebayo
6’9” PF/C
Kentucky
DMX: 6.7
DMX Comp: Noah Vonleh (6.9)

Monk and Fox will comprise the backcourt for Kentucky next season, and it ought to be something to behold. Fox is a quick, shifty 6’3” PG who plays hounding defense. Monk, who can play both guard positions, might be the best scorer in the class. Edrice “Bam” Adebayo continues a long-running tradition of Calipari sniping an elite big man prospect. I’m not sure this is a better haul than Duke’s, but it’s close.

10. Killian Tillie
6’10” PF
Gonzaga
DMX: 7.8
DMX Comp: Ryan Anderson (7.4)

While most D-I programs fight over a handful of ho-hum 6’10” guys, Gonzaga, the Spurs of NCAA, signed the best international prospect in the world by DMX. Tillie’s 7.8 DMX is fourth best among incoming NCAA freshmen between Lonzo Ball and Jayson Tatum, the #5 and #2 ranked high school players. A grade like that in 450 minutes is too good to ignore and Tillie’s highlights make him look like an absolute stud. KT will make Gonzaga fans forget about Kyle Wiltjer quickly and it is only a matter of time before he appears on draft boards.

Honorable Mention

Jarron Cumberland
6’4” SG
Cincinnati
DMX: 7.3
DMX Comp: Bradley Beal (6.8)

If Tillie is the most underrated newcomer, Jarron Cumberland is the most underrated high school prospect. The Cincinnati signee is ESPN’s 43rd ranked 2016 prospect despite having the fifth best DMX projection. It’s easy to see why scouts are bearish on Jarron, though. He is built more like a linebacker than an NBA guard and has the ugliest release on his jumper this side of Lonzo Ball.

Frank Jackson
6’4” PG/SG
Duke
DMX: -0.2

The title of most overrated prospect goes to Duke recruit Frank Jackson. Albeit in a small sample size (they cut both ways), Jackson has a DMX hovering around 0 and an assist-turnover ratio hovering around 1. With Derryck Thornton transferring and a frontcourt that includes Giles, Tatum, and fifth-year senior Amile Jefferson, I expect to see a lot of Grayson Allen and even Luke Kennard running point for the Blue Devils.

Michael Porter Jr.
6’9” SF
DMX: 9.3
DMX Comp: Carmelo Anthony (9.0)

Projecting even further into the future, Michael Porter Jr. (class of 2017) looks like a bona fide #1 pick. I don’t have enough stats for 7’0” monsters DeAndre Ayton or Mohamed Bamba, but it’s going to be hard for them to top Porter, a 6’9” forward whose 9.3 DMX in 450 minutes puts him in Brandon Ingram territory.