Two guys are gunning to be 2017’s first pick: Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball.
Each has a legitimate shot of getting selected, but, across most draft boards, Fultz has the edge. A lot of it comes from his ability to play both ends of the court, something that Ball didn’t show with UCLA. Additionally, Fultz has all of the physical attributes to play both guard positions effectively.
He stands at 6-4 with a 6-9.8 wingspan, the same amount of length that Kansas star Josh Jackson has at 6-8. Lonzo’s two inches taller but doesn’t have those Stretch Armstrong extremities.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Fultz showed us the same level of confidence that his Pac-12 rival has, saying that he wants to win the Rookie of the Year and the MVP award.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) April 18, 2017
It’s crazy. But irrational confidence isn’t a bad thing if expressed sparingly. Fultz has a promising future in the NBA and has all of the tools to be a perennial All-Star and maybe even bring home an MVP or two. In his lone season with the Washington Huskies, the Maryland native averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals en route to being named a third-team All-American by AP, Sporting News and the NABC.
The conference’s leading scorer manufactured his buckets in a myriad of ways, and his ability to create shots for himself from anywhere on the court is seldom seen from a college freshman — especially with such polish. Overall, Fultz shot 47.6 percent from the field as Washington’s lone option, and he was attempting 17.6 shots a night.
His versatility should allow him to thrive with whatever team picks him, and that dominance with the basketball is critical for winning the accolades he wants. Historically, rookies don’t win the MVP, but they do win the Rookie of the Year. (Bad joke, sorry.) Wilt Chamberlain and Wes Unseld were the only first-year players to take home MVP, and their stat lines were quite gaudy:
The NBA is more talented now than ever, and the point guard renaissance means Fultz would have to replicate the production of his peers. The winner of the 2017 MVP is going to average either 31-10-10 or 29-11-8, and there are other guys like Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and Isaiah Thomas who put up eye-popping numbers that pale in comparison to the other-worldliness that is Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
Since Fultz is going to be a rookie, he can put up numbers that are a bit lacking in the volume department. That still means he’d have to average something like 25 points, seven boards and seven assists, and only Oscar Robertson has done that in his first year. Even if we shave off two rebounds and two dimes, the list only grows by one. And no, Michael Jordan didn’t win the MVP as a rookie.
This argument also doesn’t take team success into account, and that would be huge in the voting. But I digress and shift my focus to Fultz as the Rookie of the Year.
Right off the bat, Ben Simmons, Ball, Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson are his direct competitors because they’re the most NBA-ready first-year players. He’s a better scorer than all of them and can make plays as well as Simmons and Lonzo while playing the defensive end of the floor.
There are also a host of other lottery picks who could come out of nowhere, and, if this race is as close as I hope it is, I’d like to see Fultz average around 20 points, five dimes and five boards while being relatively efficient from the field. And that’s a stat sheet he’s entirely capable of achieving.
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