2017 NBA Draft: Markelle Fultz Leaving Washington Early, No. 1 Overall Pick?

The 2017 NBA Draft just got its first commitment from an underclassmen when Markelle Fultz declared his intentions on March 10.

Fultz announced that he will forgo his last three years of college eligibility on Friday afternoon in a Twitter video. The 18-year-old’s first college season officially concluded on Wednesday night when the University of Washington fell to the USC Trojans (78-73) in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament on March 8. He did not play in the tournament game and missed six of the Huskies’ last eight games with a sore knee.

“After sitting down with my mom and the coaching staff, I’ve made the decision to enter the NBA draft,” Fultz said in the video. “Although the season hasn’t gone as planned, it’s really truly been a blessing to be here, and I learned plenty of life lessons on and off the court, especially from coach [Lorenzo Romar] and his coaching staff. I’m always going to be a Husky for life. Go Dawgs.”

Fultz had a pretty productive campaign even though his team did not. The six-foot-four combo guard led the Pac-12 with 23.2 points to go along with 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from beyond the arc. He also recorded 1.6 steals, 1.2 blocks, and 3.2 assists a contest.

Markelle Fultz scored in double figures in 24 of his 25 appearances this season, including 18 games of at least 20 points and five of 30 or more points. Fultz also posted four double-doubles. His best game in Seattle was when he poured in a career-high 37 points, on 13-of-25 shooting, against the Colorado Buffaloes on Jan. 18. He also had eight assists, five rebounds, three steals, and three blocks in that game against the Buffaloes.

Markelle Fultz is a potential No. 1 overall selection and a lock to be a top-five pick in this year’s upcoming draft. Fultz is projected to go No. 1 overall by CBS Sports‘ Howard Megdal and Gary Parrish, as well as Chad Ford of ESPN.

Fultz is an elite athlete with great size and length. He can play either the one or two as he sees the floor well and is a good three-point shooter, although getting to the basket is what he does best.

Here is Ford’s recent analysis of Fultz’s position atop the draft board.

“Fultz’s grasp on the No. 1 pick has always been a bit tenuous… However, in a survey of a number of top NBA execs and scouts, Fultz still polled slightly ahead of Ball as the No. 1 pick.

“This doesn’t mean he’ll be the No. 1 pick, though several teams that could potentially land the No. 1 pick like the Celtics, Sixers and Wolves seem to be leaning toward Fultz right now.

“Medical testing (no one in the NBA really knows what’s going on with that knee), workouts and interviews will now be key for Fultz to hold on to the top position.”

While Fultz had great individual success, he could go down as playing on the least successful team of any top selection in the history of the modern draft per Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo Sports. Washington finished 11th in the Pac-12 with a 2-16 record and was just 9-22 overall. The Huskies lost 14 games by double-digits and were ranked 332nd in the nation in scoring defense, surrendering 81.1 points a game. The Huskies gave up at least 90 points six times.

As for where Fultz ends up in the NBA draft is up for debate right now, and a lot hinges on what happens in the next couple of months as Ford stated above. However, where Fultz ends up is more complicated than what Ford stated.

First Markelle Fultz’s draft position will depend on which team wins the lottery. Brooklyn will likely have the best chance of winning the draft lottery with the Nets owning a NBA-worst 11-53 record. Of course, Boston is going to exercise its right to swap picks with Brooklyn as part of their trade involving Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

If the Celtics do get the right to pick first, it is hard to imagine that they will take Fultz with Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, and Avery Bradley already ahead of him on the depth chart. The Celtics could use help up front and will likely seek some veterans as they prepare to make a serious run at returning to the NBA Finals. Boston passed up on Kris Dunn last year, who fell to Minnesota at No. 5.

The Los Angeles Lakers (20-45) have the second best chance at obtaining the top pick. The Lakers want to keep the pick, meaning they need their selection to fall in the top three or it gets conveyed to Philadelphia. The Lakers have D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Brandon Ingram at the guard positions but it is conceivable they would go with Fultz. However, it is much more likely the Lakers would decide to go with UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball if he declares. Kansas Josh Jackson is a possibility if he decides to declare as well.

Phoenix (21-44) currently has the third best chance to secure the top pick. The Suns’ top two choices would likely be Fultz and Ball. The 76ers (23-42) have the fourth best percentage of obtaining the No. 1 overall pick and would also likely choose between Fultz and Ball. Orlando (24-42), Sacramento (25-40), and the New York Knicks (26-39) have the next best chances of winning the lottery. Sacramento also owns New Orleans’ (25-40) draft choice this year. All of them would also consider Fultz, Ball, and Jackson.

Other contenders for the No. 1 overall pick

Lonzo Ball, UCLA

Lonzo Ball is the No. 2 NBA prospect in this year’s draft according to Ford.

“Scouts are particularly enamored with his ability to control the game offensively. He makes everyone around him better but can take over games when things get close.

“Several teams with good odds of winning the lottery like the Lakers, Suns and Magic appear to be leaning toward Ball. With Fultz’s season probably over, a big NCAA tournament for Ball could help him gain even more ground.”

The six-foot-five freshman point guard has yet to declare his intentions, but he will certainly leave school after this year. Ball is more of a pure point guard than Fultz though he is not quite on his level in strength or defense. Ball has struggled the last few games with his shooting, but has a chance to improve his stock with a strong NCAA Tournament.

Josh Jackson, Kansas

Josh Jackson also has yet to declare for the NBA draft but it is almost a forgone conclusion that he will. The six-foot-eight freshman forward is very versatile and has the ability to play multiple positions. Here is what Ford said:

“There are a handful of NBA GMs and scouts who feel that Jackson also makes a very strong case for the top pick.

“He has improved significantly as the season has progressed, especially as a shooter. In his past 12 games he has shot 51 percent from 3 (18-for-35). He also has recorded seven double-doubles in that 12-game stretch.”

Jackson has posted 11 double-doubles with seven coming in the past 12 games. He is averaging 16.4 points, 3.1 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.1 blocks for the season. He is also shooting 51.1 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from beyond the arc. Foul shooting (55.9 percent) and turnovers (2.8 per game) are Jackson’s weaknesses.

Dennis Smith Jr., North Carolina State

Dennis Smith Jr. also has not yet declared for the draft. But Adam Zagoria of Fanrag Sports Network has reported that there is no chance of the six-foot-two point guard returning to school. Smith is a very long shot of being selected with the top pick but should be picked in the top 10 of the NBA draft.

Malik Monk, Kentucky

Malik Monk could also enter the conversation of being the No. 1 overall pick by leading Kentucky to the national title this season. The six-foot-three freshman shooting guard is perhaps the best scorer and shooter who will enter the NBA draft. Monk’s biggest challenge of climbing up to No. 1 on NBA’s draft boards is the inconsistency of his shot and shot selection. Monk is also kind of on the small size for a shooting guard and is not a real playmaker.

Jayson Tatum, Duke

Jayson Tatum has used the postseason, at least in the ACC Tournament, to his advantage to improve his draft stock. The six-foot-eight, 19-year-old small forward is currently projected to go No. 7 in Ford’s most recent mock draft. And here is Ford’s analysis:

“Tatum has all the physical tools to be a dominant NBA 3. Shooting remains the biggest question mark for him.

“Tatum makes nearly 60 percent of his shots at the rim. However, things get a little sketchier as he moves away from the basket.”

Tatum has been terrific in the first three ACC tournament games that Duke has played. Tatum has scored at least 20 points, grabbed six boards, and doled out two assists in the last three games. He is averaging 23 points, 7.3 caroms, and 2.6 assists while shooting 53.3 percent from the field (24-of-45) as well as 80 percent from the free throw line (18-of-20) during the ACC tournament. However, Tatum is just 3-of-13 (23.0 percent) from the three-point line. Three-point shooting and turnovers are his biggest weakness.

[Featured Image by Elaine Thompson/AP Images]