With the Philadelphia 76ers set to open their season on the road against the Washington Wizards, the NBA gets a glimpse into the present and future as Markelle Fultz faces the East’s top point guard in John Wall.
Markelle Fultz has been billed as the final piece of the puzzle for the Philadelphia 76ers, closing the door on their rebuild as the venture into a state of competitive basketball. As (in)arguably one of the top two or three guard prospects from this decade, it’s expected that Fultz will emerge as a superstar in the coming years.
As it currently stands, the depth of point guard in NBA is unmatched by any other position. In order to stake his claim as one of the league’s best, the University of Washington product must go toe-to-toe with today’s current group of stars and prove he belongs in the conversation. A matchup with John Wall — a fellow No. 1 pick — in the Sixers’ opening game of the year gives Fultz the opportunity to do just that.
Seven years ago, Wall stood in a similar position to Fultz. He was heralded as the No. 1 overall pick throughout the duration of his freshman year at the University of Kentucky before eventually being selected by the Wizards — a team who bounced in and out of playoff basketball for much of the 2000s. Wall was labeled as the NBA’s next great point guard and given the keys to a team that was struggling to gain traction. While extraordinarily gifted in a number of areas, Wall’s game was not without flaws. He wasn’t a strong outside shooter; he was turnover-prone; he was out of control at times, unaware as to when to harness his breakneck speed.
And yet, despite these flaws, Wall has become one of the top point guards in the NBA. Entering his eighth NBA season, Wall is now a respectable 3-point shooter (34.1 percent from 3-point range the last four years). He now knows how to best utilize his quickness, shifting the tempo to keep opposing defenses at bay. While still periodically turnover-prone, Wall’s gifted playmaking ability more than makes up for it (10.3 assists per game over the past three seasons). Most importantly, after struggling with injuries throughout much of his first three seasons, Wall has experienced newfound durability, playing in 316 of 328 possible games over the past four years (79 per year).
While almost an entirely different prospect than Wall, Fultz too has holes in game. He struggles on defense despite the physical traits to be a strong defender. For someone with a strong 3-point stroke, Fultz is an abnormally poor free throw shooter. At times, Fultz can appear passive and fail to make a significant impact on the game, neglecting his well-rounded offensive repertoire. The hope is that like Wall, Fultz can improve upon these deficiencies.
Immediately upon entering the league, Wall made known his intentions to become a superstar. He burst onto the scene, averaging 16.4 points, 8.3 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game en route to the 2010-11 Rookie of the Year award. As the presumptive starting point guard in Philadelphia, it is likely Fultz will produce strong numbers, placing him in the conversation for next season’s Rookie of the Year award.
As two of the most talented No. 1 picks in recent history, Fultz would do well to follow in the four-time All-Star’s footsteps. Witnessing firsthand what it takes to become one of the NBA’s best point guards, after being an immensely talented prospect, could do wonders for Fultz’s development.
Fultz will need time to refine his game before emerging as an All-Star, but with a gifted skill-set, the odds are in his favor for such development to materialize. Much like Wall, the 6-foot-4 guard has to deliver on the hype. What better way for Fultz to make a statement than a date with the East’s top point guard? Wall has earned the label of NBA superstar; it’s only a matter of time before Fultz does the same.