Markelle Fultz: The next star lead guard

Mar 26, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; McDonalds All American guard Markelle Fultz (20) poses for photos on portrait day at the Marriott Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 26, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; McDonalds All American guard Markelle Fultz (20) poses for photos on portrait day at the Marriott Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

If the first two games of 6-foot-4 freshman lead guard Markelle Fultz’s college career are any indication of what’s to come, we could be looking at an all-time generational lead guard and the best one to come out of the draft since Stephen Curry in 2009. Averaging an absurd 32.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6 assists, 2.5 made 3s , a steal and a block, and 13 free-throw attempts per game, all on a 75 true shooting percentage, this is one of all-time great starts for a premiere prospect.

While the stats are other-worldly, how Fultz is accomplishing this via the eye-test is even more impressive. I was at Sunday night’s opener against Yale, and Fultz made scoring 30 points and getting into the lane look so easy. He’s incredibly advanced skills and intelligence-wise for someone who turned 18 at the end of May, and as someone who has had Fultz as a top-3 prospect since the McDonald’s All-American Game, he has eclipsed even my lofty expectations. So how is he doing it? In short, in every way imaginable.

Read More: Josh Jackson flashes NBA talent in Kansas’ win over Duke

Sizing up prospects, the first thing you do is get a general feel for their positional size, physical tools, and athleticism. At 6-foot-4, 185 pounds with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, Fultz’s presence up close matches the documented measurements. So what about the general run and jump vertical athleticism?

And again:

And once more, with feeling:

You can see the speed and ability to convert that speed to vertical explosiveness in space. Fultz might not be the absolute freak athlete of his main lead guard draft competition Dennis Smith, but it’s fair to classify him as a plus vertical athlete. You can see that bounce on recovery blocks as well, like in the following two clips:

A lot of NBA prospects have elite run and jump athleticism. What truly separates elite lead guards especially is the ability to change speeds with the ball, and it’s hard to recall a prospect who does that as well as Fultz.

He’s almost impossible to keep out of the lane with his jitterbug shake and slipperiness, which has been on display in full over the first two games. Fultz is a threat to go any direction at any moment, while pairing that with the ability to pull-up on a dime and doing all this with his head up reading the floor. It’s entirely unfair for opposing defenders.

Here, he smoothly and efficiently weaves right around the big with a quick crossover without any wasted action:

He can play straight up at times with the ball, but in a way it helps him deceive defenders like in the following clip:

Notice him set up his defender staying straight up with a hesitation dribble to freeze him and then quickly sink down with the crossover, leaving his defender in the dust. There just aren’t many defenders who have the reactionary athleticism to mirror this kind of handling style. It’s so much harder to cover than raw one-speed burst.

Fultz can be a high-dribbler with his more upright style, but the ball is on a string at all times, even in tight quarters.

Fultz also has advanced dribble moves to pair with his shake. He already possesses devastating hesitation and crossover moves, and has a wicked go-to right-to-left spin that he uses consistently. Fultz is just an agility monster who projects to be able to create his own shot in isolation at the next level, and doesn’t have to rely on screens to gain an advantage.

It’s one thing to be able to get into the lane at will. It’s another to be able to finish over length and in traffic, especially in the NBA. For lead guards it’s almost as paramount to be a crafty finisher on non-dunk attempts as it is to have that game-changing burst and vertical pop. You’ll be shocked to know Fultz has the finishing touch and craftiness in spades too.

Here, he shows incredible body control and finishing touch on the up-and-under reverse, a high degree of difficulty shot:

For our viewing pleasure, he gives you the up-and-under going the other direction off his patented spin this time.

Rounding out his finishing acumen, Fultz has shown soft touch on a floater in the intermediate area around the basket.

In similar fashion, he also has a runner he can utilize in traffic, showing plus body control again.

As mentioned in the introduction, Fultz can score from all three levels while also keeping his head up on the move to locate teammates. He finds teammates before they’re open with anticipatory vision, and can find teammates even in traffic on the move like on this drop-off:

And again.

He can also read the floor in the pick-and-roll, splitting the defense with solid burst here and making the correct read on the pass to the shooter with the defense rotating down to combat the advantage situation.

One question Fultz really needed to answer entering the season was consistent range shooting, and thus far, he’s answered the call starting 5-10 on 3-pointer. Of greatest importance was Fultz’s ability to shoot 3s off the dribble, which in NBA pick-and-roll heavy sets is a huge scheme-changing shot at the point of attack that both opens up more offensive opportunities and dictates defensive scheme. Fultz has shown smooth mechanics and good lift shooting off the bounce from deep, with accompanying plus rotation on the ball. He sometimes shoots slightly on the way down, but mostly he shoots at the apex. While he doesn’t have the quickest release, the shooting process is fluid with a high release point:

Here, note how his size and high release point enables him to shoot over the contest with his defender going under (and also note that change of direction spin move to lose his defender before the drag screen).

He’s also flashed off-the-catch 3-point shooting, with again the size and high release to shoot over closeouts.

Overall, Fultz looks every bit as advertised early on. He’s a scheme-changing three-level scorer with incredible vision and original shake who you can’t keep out of the paint. Lead guards have to be able to score in most cases in the league, but secondarily have to have the vision to make all the reads on the move. Fultz personifies this. He’s also a decent bet to defend at an above average level (more on this later), making him a rare two-way scheme-changer.

If you haven’t seen the University of Washington phenom yet, you’re missing out on one of the most aesthetically pleasing prospects to come around in a long time.

Get hype.