An "Ideal Fit," Fultz Headlines 6-Player Draft Haul

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

CAMDEN - Bryan Colangelo might not have felt comfortable connecting Markelle Fultz’s name to the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft immediately after Monday’s mega-trade with Boston was finalized, but once the selection became official early Thursday evening, the 76ers’ personnel chief made it clear that the multi-faceted guard was precisely the prospect the team had been targeting all along.

The combination of Fultz’s talent, fit, and character was a must-have for the Sixers, and represented the driving force behind their decision to swap spots with the Celtics and get him.

“We felt like the value of moving from three to one was relevant in that we moved into a position to take, what we think, is the ideal fit for this roster among the draft prospects,” said Colangelo, running his second draft since joining the Sixers last April. “Markelle is a tremendous athlete, he’s a tremendous young man. We think he’s going to fit the culture of this organization...the core of young players that we’re putting together.”

As Colangelo said, Fultz is more than just any old fit for the Sixers, calling the 19-year old a “prototypical combo guard” to pair with the Sixers’ promising young nucleus.

“It’s an opportunity that we feel basketball-wise - playing alongside Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and many others - that it was the right player, the right piece to move this situation forward,” said Colangelo.

Between his athleticism, elusiveness, finishing ability, perimeter touch, effective ball-handling, and overall offensive versatility, the Sixers figure Fultz will help the team’s floor-spacing efforts in a major way, specifically when paired with the likes of Embiid and Simmons. Hence the reason Brett Brown grew to become so fond of the blue-chipper.

“When you look at [Fultz’s] ability to shoot, when you look at his ability to create on a catch-go or off a live ball certainly in early offense, he can co-exist with Ben and Joel the easiest out of all of [this year’s prospects],” said Brown. “I feel that with Markelle, and with his sort of variety of ball skills and positional skills, you feel it a lot clearer that the fit can be a little bit more seamless. He’s the perfect complement to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.”

In his lone season at Washington, one that netted him All-America honors, Fultz ranked sixth in the country by scoring 23.2 points per game, while also posting 5.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.2 blocks. He was a weapon from the outside, nailing 52 3-pointers, and converting 41.3 percent of his attempts from deep.

When asked at Barclays Center in Brooklyn about the role he expects to assume with the Sixers, Fultz said that for now, he’s mostly focused on one thing - doing whatever it takes to win. His early conversations with Colangelo and Brown haven’t gotten much deeper than that.

“We’ve just talked about how glad they are for me really, not the expectations,” Fultz told reporters in New York. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to talk to them soon about everything like that. They’re pretty much just happy for me. This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and that’s pretty much what they were indicating to me - just have fun with this process no matter where I go, and I’m happy that I came here.”

Taking Fultz’s journey into account, you can’t blame him for wanting to enjoy the ride. You’re probably well-aware of his rapid ascent by now, but to recap, four years ago, as a sophomore, he couldn’t crack the varsity roster at renowned DeMatha Catholic.

In 2014-2015, Fultz delivered a breakout junior season, and carried that momentum into his senior year, during which he competed in several prominent amateur showcases, like the Nike Hoop Summit, Jordan Brand Classic, and McDonald’s All-American Game. Along this circuit, the Upper Marlboro, Maryland native started to gain traction among pro scouts, including Marc Eversley, now the Sixers’ Vice President of Player Personnel.

Last summer, Fultz also performed well at the FIBA Americas U-18 Championships.

“Not only did Markelle go and have a pretty good stage with USA Basketball, but he emerged really as a lead prospect, we thought, at some of those [All-Star] games,” said Colangelo. “I’m look at a whole host of talented players last year, but Marc Eversley said, ‘That guy, he’s going to be the one,’ and he was right. A whole year of scouting has confirmed our thoughts and confirmed our decision.”

In Fultz’s eyes, his stock didn’t rise by accident.

“I don’t think it was a mistake,” Fultz said about his progress. “It just helped me see that you have to work to get what you want. I work every day. I have a chip on my shoulder, and I don’t want anything given to me. I earn everything I get.”

Colangelo echoed a similar sentiment Thursday, describing Fultz as a grinder who’s had to fight for all the success he’s achieved. After Fultz’s visit to the Sixers’ training complex last Saturday for a private workout, Brown too was sold on the incoming rookie’s intangibles.

Brown and Fultz met briefly in the coach’s office following the session, and the impression Fultz left was a good one. Brown came away from the chat convinced that Fultz is the coachable type, a quality that should suit the youngster well, particularly when it comes to learning NBA defense.

“For me, I learn the most when I can sit down in a room all by myself with the player and just talk,” said Brown. “The conversation goes where the conversation goes. You take the experience, you weigh it up with all the intel that we now have available to us, and it points back to a high-character person. If you take a high-character person, and you take an athlete, you have the foundation to coach him to be an elite defender.”

Having dreamed about the draft since he was a kid in Prince George’s county, Fultz saw a lifelong goal realized Thursday night. Quickly, he sounded as if he were ready to hit the ground running with his new team, and give his new city something to cheer about.

Thursday, Fultz’s message to Sixers fans was, “I just want to tell you I’m looking forward to being out there. I love you guys, and I’m coming to put all my heart and soul into this program. I hope you guys are ready.”

In addition to Fultz, the fourth No. 1 selection in franchise history, the Sixers landed five other prospects Thursday, including 25th overall pick Anzejs Pasecnicks via a trade with the Orlando Magic. The cost for the Latvian big man, who last year played played in the competitive Spanish ACB league, was a 2020 protected first-round pick.

The Sixers used their four second-round choices on Australian forward Jonah Bolden (No. 36), Oklahoma State guard Jawun Evans (No. 39), SMU guard Sterling Brown (No. 46), and French center Mathias Lessort (No. 50).

During one last media availability Thursday held at the draft’s conclusion, Colangelo indicated that this year’s international pick-ups will likely remain overseas for the 2017-2018 campaign.

“We’re pleased with the outcome and the results,” Colangelo said Thursday, as he spoke about the Sixers’ 2017 draft haul. “I think overall I was proud of the effort put forth by everyone, and I think that we were very well-prepared, which is something you always want to feel. I feel like we got a lot done. We’ll see how it all plays out.”