ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said on a conference call Monday morning that Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, expected to be taken first overall by the Sixers in Thursday’s NBA draft, should have no problem playing next to Ben Simmons in the team’s new-look backcourt.
“Markelle Fultz will fit with anyone,” said Bilas, who will be part of ESPN’s coverage team Thursday. “He is the most complete offensive player in the draft.”
The Sixers swung a trade with Boston to acquire the first pick, and the 6-foot-4 Fultz, a Maryland native who played a single season for the Huskies, is almost unanimously viewed as the top player available. He averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds in 2016-17 while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor and 41.3 from 3-point range.
Bilas ticked off Fultz’s attributes: “Passes. Shoots. Shoots from range. Finishes around the basket. And he’s got NBA size and length for a point guard. He’s the best pick-and-roll ball handler in the draft. He can go either way. Excellent passer, and especially an excellent passer in pick-and-roll situations.”
Bilas did add that Fultz “floats a little bit defensively,” while noting that a great many collegiate stars have flaws at that end of the floor.
“But,” Bilas added, “he’s the real deal. You could put him next to anybody, and he’ll play.”
Simmons, last year’s top overall choice, did not play in 2016-17 because of a broken foot. Coach Brett Brown has said he intends to use the 6-foot-10 forward as his point guard, but that was before it seemed possible that the Sixers, who traded up from the third spot in the draft, would have a shot at Fultz.
Fultz turned 19 on May 29. Simmons turns 21 on July 20. Joel Embiid and Dario Saric are both 23. So while the team’s talent level has clearly improved over the last few years, it also seems likely that there will be some growing pains.
“Right now, contending is not really the issue,” Bilas said. “It’s building a sustainable culture for these younger guys.”
It’s not the worst time to try and do that, given Cleveland’s dominance in the Eastern Conference.
“Right now in the East, I don’t think it really matters who Philly gets; they’re not going to challenge Cleveland the next couple years, the next few years,” Bilas said. “I don’t think anybody in the East is going to do that.”
At the same time, he added, “Even LeBron James is going to get older. Building to be at your best when Cleveland’s going to be not at their best is probably the way to go for a franchise that hasn’t performed at a high level in several years.”