The months leading up to the 2017 draft were some of the most exciting in modern Sixers history. It appeared as if the dark days of ‘The Process’ were finally coming to an end as the team looked to flip the switch into win-now mode.
Joel Embiid had just come off of a rookie season where he proved to be even better than fans had hoped. Ben Simmons was fully healthy after missing his first year with a broken foot and ready to step into the lineup. In addition, new GM Bryan Colangelo was able to trade up to the first overall pick with the hopes to land Markelle Fultz.
The Stars had aligned to give the Sixers the big 3 that they craved. Unfortunately, the Markelle Fultz experiment failed in one of the strangest stories in sports history leaving the Sixers in the uncertain position they currently find themselves in.
To start with, it was fairly unique circumstances that led to the Sixers even getting that 1st pick. The team had the 4th highest odds going into the lottery with an 11.9% chance at landing the 1 pick and 37.8% at it being top-3. The Sixers also would get the Lakers pick if it landed outside the top 3, although they had odds better than the Sixers (and ended up getting the #2 pick).
When the lottery was all said and done the order looked like this:
In a draft that hyped the potential stardom of guys like Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, and even De’Aaron Fox, the Celtics had no interest in the seemingly unanimous top 3. Instead, there was a 6’8 wing out of Duke named Jayson Tatum who had peaked Danny Ainge and the Celtics’ interest. Knowing that Tatum would be around a few more picks and that the Sixers were looking for that last guy to complete their big 3 with Simmons and Embiid, a deal was soon worked out.
So in order to move up 2 picks and attain the first overall pick in the draft for the second year in a row, Colangelo dealt the 3rd overall pick along with a first-round pick next year. This first-round pick comes from the stash of assets that Hinkie had racked up in his time here. If the pick landed between 2-5, the Celtics would get the Lakers’ pick that the Sixers had attained. If that pick did not convey, the Kings’ first-rounder that originally came in the trade that brought Nik Stauskas which turned out to be one of Hinkie’s best moves would be sent to the Celtics.
To start with, Markelle Fultz was the clear-cut number 1 pick in the draft. DraftExpress referred to him as a “franchise lead guard, future all-star, and a player any organization can build around.” SportingNews went as far as declaring him “one of the 10 best prospects to enter the NBA over the last decade.” While these takes obviously did not age well, Fultz did have the college tape to back it up.
In his one year at Washington, Fultz averaged 23.2 points along with 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds. His 6’4 height and 6’10 wingspan helped him to be disruptive on defense and his smooth jumper (*pain) helped him to knock down 3’s at close to 42%. He excelled in the pick-and-roll and had an array of finishing moves around the rim. Fultz could handle the ball well and effectively run an offense but also looked good in off-ball situations. He was seemingly an ideal fit as an NBA combo guard.
Markelle was the consensus number 1 pick by just about every analyst. In addition to the “NBA ready play-style” that had front offices and scouts so excited, Fultz also was seemingly a perfect fit for the Sixers. With a full season to get healthy and develop into the role of a Point Guard, expectations were growing for Ben Simmons.
Fultz was looked at as a perfect counterpart to his style of play and partnering the smooth shooting perimeter play of Fultz with the elite slashing ability of Simmons had a serious buzz surrounding it. This duo paired with the dominant post play from Embiid was expected to launch the Sixers into championship contention. Drafting Markelle Fultz was the move that could complete The Process and set the franchise up with the core of young stars that is necessary to win the NBA.
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