76ers

The case for Washington's Markelle Fultz to the Sixers at No. 3 (or No. 1)

The case for Washington's Markelle Fultz to the Sixers at No. 3 (or No. 1)

Over the weeks leading up to the 2017 NBA draft, we'll be making cases for the Sixers to draft several prospects. Our series will kick off with options at No. 3 (or trade ups/downs) followed by second-round possibilities. The 2017 NBA draft will take place on June 22 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Markelle Fultz
Position: PG
School: Washington
Height: 6-4
Weight: 195
Wingspan: 6-9

Last season's consensus No. 1 prospect, Ben Simmons, ended up Philadelphia. Could that happen for a second straight draft? 

Fultz is widely considered the easy No. 1 choice for the Boston Celtics, fresh off a beatdown in the Eastern Conference finals. And for good reason. Fultz was unleashed on the NCAA last year and he put up 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game while playing for the lackluster Huskies.

Unlike the rest of the top-five prospects, Fultz didn't find himself in the NCAA Tournament. Still, that probably won't affect his pursuit of becoming the No. 1 pick, thereby making a fall to No. 3 all the more unlikely.

The case for Fultz
The Washington point guard played just 892 minutes in college, but he looked like the real deal during that short period. Fultz was unable to make a bad team good by himself (9-21 record) and had poor floor spacing around him as opposing teams focused on him.

He thrived anyway. He has an elite ability to shoot off the dribble, creating with his strong handle and finishing with a jumper. Fultz shot 41.3 percent from three-point range and over 38 percent off the catch, meaning he doesn't necessarily even need to be the guy with the ball in his hands.

But when he gets in transition, you certainly want the rock in his hands. He's explosive, able to change speeds in an instant and take off for the basket before slowing down and utilizing his elite finishing ability. Despite teams loading the paint and helping off his teammates, he could still finish at the rim. 

Fultz has strong court vision and can find teammates well, hence his 5.9 assists despite those aforementioned sub-par courtmates. He navigates screens extremely well, both splitting them occasionally and getting around them. It will be fascinating to see how he deals with the extra space he'll get at the next level with some NBA-quality shooters around him.

Defensively, he has the size to be great with his height and wingspan. He's been able to get into passing lanes and can defend the rim against opposing guards, racking up 1.2 blocks to go with 1.6 steals per game. 

The case against Fultz
No prospect is without flaws, although Fultz is likely the most NBA-ready of the top players with the polish in his game. One chief concern for Fultz is his shooting. He shot well from three but was just 64.9 percent from the free throw line. His form is solid on jumpers, particularly how high he releases the ball, but there is reason to believe he won't be quite as good from the field in a larger sample size.

The biggest issue for him, though, is how locked in he is defensively. Simply, he wasn't locked in and engaged there all the time last season. How much of that had to do with Washington being a non-competitive team is up for debate, but it is a question he has to answer at the next level. There are no days off with the overall talent at point guard in the NBA.

Finally, he dealt with knee soreness that kept him out of six games while a Huskie. By all reports, he appears to be medically fine with nothing structurally wrong. It's not really worth too much worry, but the Sixers haven't had much injury luck with prospects recently.

Analysis
There is a very limited chance that Fultz falls to No. 3. Chances are, either the Celtics will select him at No. 1 or they will trade the selection for a bonafide All-Star (Paul George or Jimmy Butler, anyone?), in which case the Pacers or Bulls would likely take Fultz. 

Lonzo Ball isn't working out with the Celtics and doesn't really fit there. The team could use a wing or a rim protector, but Fultz is likely too good to pass up. If the Celtics passed on Fultz, the Lakers probably snatch up the Washington product. 

Therefore, the only realistic chance the Sixers have to grab this year's premier talent is to trade up with the Celtics. The teams don't seem to fit all that well on a trade. The Celtics are looking for a star to add to their roster and consolidate their assets while the Sixers would likely offer a package consisting of only a series of top-flight draft picks. This makes Fultz to Philly a pipedream.

Without Joel Embiid in Toronto, Sixers 'jumped' in telling loss to Raptors

Without Joel Embiid in Toronto, Sixers 'jumped' in telling loss to Raptors

BOX SCORE

TORONTO — Ben Simmons' double-double feat aside, the Sixers have had little to enjoy about the start to the season.

They were outclassed Saturday night, 128-94, by the Toronto Raptors and have lost their first three games (see observations).

As has been their custom for back-to-back games, center Joel Embiid did not play Saturday after playing Friday in the loss to the Boston Celtics to protect his left knee.

Head coach Brett Brown said he did not expect things to go this way.

“I didn’t,” he said. “I knew the first three games were going to be difficult. I knew coming into this building after a back-to-back was going to be difficult, but you are certainly not expecting it to be that margin of a deficit. I give Toronto credit.

“We have a lot of work to do; we look forward to getting Joel (Embiid) back in this and continuing to learn how to play the group.”

After trailing by as many as 17 points in the first quarter, the Sixers whittled the lead to eight when Jerryd Bayless hit a couple of free throws with 2:22 left in the first half.

Toronto led 62-49 at the half and blitzed the Sixers to open the third quarter with Serge Ibaka scoring eight of their first 10 points of the second half. With 3:12 left in the third, the Raptors led by 29.

“They jumped us, especially at the start of the third, certainly portions of the first period but especially the start of the third and you’re just playing catch up pretty much for the rest of the game after that first almost minute, minute and a half,” Brown said.

“You’re just trying to find some type of order and purpose to end the game with that in mind.”

It was a subdued atmosphere in the dressing room after the game.

The edge surely was removed from another double-double by Simmons.

He had 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

Simmons joins Oscar Robertson as the only NBA players to average 10-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and five-plus assists in their first three career games.

“It looks great, but I’d rather have a win,” he said. “I’d rather we had three wins than three double-doubles.”

Simmons said he is looking forward to Embiid returning to the lineup Monday against the Detroit Pistons.

He said he could feel the game slipping away Saturday.

“Toward the third, coming out we just didn’t click, didn’t have it together,” Simmons said. “It’s tough without Joel (Embiid), obviously there’s chemistry and then you switch it up, so that comes into it, but we need to learn to play without him, with those back-to-backs.

“We have to stay together as a team, talk it out, get through it, communicate on the court and hold each other accountable. … We have to sit down and look at what we did wrong, that’s with every game, you have to fix your mistakes and come out ready for the next one. It’s a long season.”

It could seem even longer if there aren't signs of improvement.

“Coach Brown has talked since Day 1 of camp about our goal; to build every day, to take something positive every day and I think for tonight, we were unable to do that,” guard J.J. Redick said. “I was just saying if it’s a six-minute stretch where we are doing things well, cutting into their lead, that’s something to build on. I don’t think we did that before but that’s what I was trying to get across.

“I’m a patient person; if we were 0-45 then I’ll start to panic. There are 82 games, we have a very tough schedule to start, we’re a young team, and that’s not an excuse but the reality is the team we played tonight and the team we played in D.C. Wednesday night, they’ve been together a long time and know how to play together. We have to figure out a way to jell quicker and we have to understand and close our margin for error.”

Sixers-Raptors observations: Not much life without Joel Embiid in blowout loss

Sixers-Raptors observations: Not much life without Joel Embiid in blowout loss

BOX SCORE

TORONTO — The Air Canada Centre has become a tough place for the Sixers.

Nothing has changed with a new season.

The Raptors defeated the Sixers, 128-94, Saturday night for their 16th win in the past 17 games against the Sixers, including 10 in a row at the Air Canada Centre.

The Sixers have problems beating the Raptors at home as well as away, which pretty well takes care of all the possibilities.

Say this for the Sixers, after falling behind by 17 points during the first quarter, they had the lead down to eight in the second quarter on a pair of free throws by former Raptor Jerryd Bayless. It was 62-49 for Toronto at the half.

Then there was the second half.

The Raptors raced out to a 72-51 lead early in the third quarter, with Serge Ibaka scoring eight of their first 10 points. Kyle Lowry finished the scoring in the third quarter with a three-pointer to increase Toronto’s lead to 102-71.

• Amir Johnson got the start at center with Joel Embiid missing the second half of a back-to-back to rest his left knee. Johnson knows his way around the Air Canada Centre, having played for the Raptors for six seasons before going to the Boston Celtics for the past two seasons. He received a nice cheer during the pregame introductions and then scored the game’s first basket on a dunk.

• Jahlil Okafor took over at center 5:27 into the first quarter and quickly scored to tie the game at 13, but he was out of the game after playing 2:49 after picking up three quick fouls.

• Ben Simmons had his third consecutive double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. He also had eight assists. He already had accomplished something never done before in franchise history entering the game against the Raptors. The rookie forward recorded double-doubles in his first two career NBA games against the Washington Wizards and the Boston Celtics. He is the 11th player in NBA history to do so.

• Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan was listed as questionable for Saturday’s game because of flu symptoms. No such luck for the Sixers, he was in the starting lineup and looked quite well as he pumped in 15 points in the first quarter on 4 for 4 shooting from the field and a telling seven free throws in eight attempts. He finished with a game-high 30 points.

• As if the discrepancy in free throws has not been enough of a problem in the early going for the Sixers, Markelle Fultz missed three of his first four free-throw attempts against the Raptors. Toronto was 24 for 28 from the line in the first half and the Sixers were 12 for 18. Toronto made 31 of 37 foul shots on the game and the Sixers made 22 of 36. 

• Toronto reserve Lucas Nogueira scored on a breakaway dunk during the third quarter, which may redefine garbage time.

• For those who thought the 17 turnovers committed by the Sixers in each of their first two games were bad, what do you think of 20 turnovers Saturday night?

• Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas was restricted to 15 minutes (five points, four rebounds) because of a sprained left ankle. He had a double-double in the team’s opening game win over the Chicago Bulls.