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Basketball philosophy

The case against Markelle Fultz as the surefire #1 prospect

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hi-res-b2ffbd9c6381fb26abc8810c27081e1e_crop_northMarkelle Fultz appears to be a lock to go #1 pick. The Celtics will either take him 1st or trade the pick to someone who will.

Should he be?

First, to ask whether Fultz should go first, my first question is whether he’s a more productive college player than his peers.

Here is the top 10 prospects on Draftexpress in PER, WS/48 and BPM:

Markelle Fultz 27.9 PER, .172 WS/48, 9.1 BPM

Lonzo Ball 24.7 PER, .214 WS/48, 12.2 BPM

Josh Jackson 24.1 PER, .180 WS/48, 10.7 BPM

Jayson Tatum 22.0 PER, .169 WS/48, 7.5 BPM

De’Aaron Fox 22.6 PER, .192 WS/48, 8.7 BPM

Malik Monk 21.5 PER, .189 WS/48, 8.0 BPM

Jonathan Isaac 24.6 PER, .205 WS/48, 10.9 BPM

Dennis Smith 23.1 PER, .142 WS/48, 7.3 BPM

Lauri Markkanen 25.0 PER, .235 WS/48, 9.3 BPM

Zach Collins 30.9 PER, .298 WS/48, 11.5 BPM

Fultz is behind the projected #2 and #3 picks in Ball and Jackson in both WS/48 and BPM, perhaps the two best boxscore stats to measure impact. His WS/48 is 8th of those 10 players and his BPM is 6th. His best ranking stat is the volume scoring tilted PER which rates ahead of all but Collins who only played 17.3 minutes per game.

Fultz is a much higher volume scorer than Ball and Jackson, but he is a worse passer than Ball and defender than Jackson. Not only is valuing raw points per game over higher ranking stats like WS/48 and BPM a mistake in any context, but especially when it comes to predicting draft prospects. Stat guys have long said the opposite is true, that filling up stats like steals, blocks, assists, rebounds, efficiency predicts success better than points per game. Volume scoring is affected by various factors such as NCAA’s rules, spacing, coaching, age and skill level of opponents and teammates. Fultz is an elite shotblocking guard and good passer and rebounder so it’s not all bad. But outside of PPG Ball and Jackson’s profiles are overall superior.

So saying Fultz was just the best player this year compared to players like Ball and Jackson is not accurate. I assume the scouts however, rate him #1 for the eye test as much as any statistical reason.

Fultz is wowing scouts for his ability to “create his own shot”. He’s one of that guy with tons of moves, so to speak. He has great change of pace ability off the pick and roll and should be strong at making difficult shots. In scouts eyes Fultz is therefore being projected as a guaranteed 20 point per game scorer.

However the ability to create your own midrange shot off the dribble is quickly becoming phased out for guards. Valuing Fultz ability to create midrange shots off the dribble is like valuing college Jahlil Okafor’s post moves, it’s not that this doesn’t add value to his career, it’s that you can be good at that and still suck. If all Fultz can do is hit those difficult Kobe shots, it’s not going to still make him some 20 point per game guy, he would more likely be a bust swirling down the Okafor vortex of death.

Therefore it comes down to how well he can score from the efficient part on the floor, 3, rim and FT line. His feel for the game, change of pace, ballhandling, size, ability to recognize space will help him here too. However while he shot 41% from 3, like Brandon Ingram last year I would warn about calling a player who shot 64.9% FT as an elite shooting prospect. I see the best predicting of shooting as a combination as 3P%, 3pt attempt volume and FT% and Fultz on the whole rates as only ok when looking at the bigger picture. Fultz ranked 14th in 3P% in DX top 100 for players with over 1 attempt per 40 minutes, 24th in 3PA/40 and 67th in FT%. From the Celtics perspective this is also dangerous because if Fultz doesn’t have the ability to shoot 3s and play off the ball, his fit with Isaiah Thomas becomes more untenable.

Fultz is a good driving prospect judging by how he averaged 7.5 free throw attempts per 40 minutes, however since he had 19.7 FGA per 40 minutes some of it is volume driven. Fultz ranked 11th among DX top 100 prospects in FTA/40, while he ranked 36th in FTA/possession. There’s also a question of whether Fultz is an elite athlete. The worrying comparisons would be prospects like Evan Turner and D’Angelo Russell who after their college success, non elite athleticism caught up to them in the pros.

I would say Fultz is not a guaranteed 20 point guy because his neither 3pt and driving games are guaranteed. His FT% reflects danger for his shooting and his athleticism reflects danger for his penetration. Fultz has guaranteed ability to create his own shot in the pros considering his track record in college, but the ability to create your own shot and do nothing efficient with it doesn’t get you anywhere nowadays.

However in addition to his scoring Fultz has defensive and passing potential. He has great size for a PG and was an elite shotblocker (1.3 blk/40) for a guard and solid ball thief (1.8 stl/40) and rebounder (6.4 reb/40), although his actual impact on defense in college was average.  He averages 6.6 ast/40, although some of it is volume driven. He ranks 6th in the class for assists/40 among DX top 100, but 16th in assists per possession. There’s reason to believe he could have an all around game for a guard as a great pick and roll scorer who can defend, rebound, pass and shoot. However his status as overwhelming #1 and a lock all-star, seems like it’s reliant on focusing too much on PPG and the ability to create difficult shots to me, something that is both overrated in the pros and even more overrated when it comes to predicting draft prospects.

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Written by jr.

May 19, 2017 at 10:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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