Complete the Process: Sixers Must Do What It Takes to Draft Markelle Fultz
If the Philadelphia 76ers have been missing anything from their ongoing rebuild during the "Trust The Process" era (aside from health and overall good fortune), it's a long-term point guard. T.J. McConnell has looked nice for stretches, and who could forget the promise that Michael Carter-Williams once showed as the 11th pick in 2013. But this roster has desperately needed a game-changing, franchise-saving floor general—something that may finally be within its grasp.
With news that the Boston Celtics are willing to trade the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft, the Sixers must do whatever it takes to seal the deal knowing they'd have first right of refusal to select Markelle Fultz.
According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Zach Lowe, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge will want the No. 3 pick and a package of more selections, likely future first-rounders. Philadelphia owns the Los Angeles Lakers' first-round pick in 2018 and the Sacramento Kings' first-rounder in 2019. And chances are, Ainge is going to demand both.
For the Sixers, now is the time to use those future assets and build for the present, and they couldn't ask for a better, more fitting building block than Fultz. Scouts all year pegged him as the nation's top prospect ahead of Lonzo Ball and Josh Jackson.
With textbook tools, exciting athleticism and high-level scoring and playmaking skills, Fultz brings explosive offensive firepower to a backcourt that doesn't have any. This is the guard they've been waiting for while passing on so many for big men draft after draft.
The difference between No. 3 and No. 1 this year could also be significant. If Fultz goes No. 1 and Ball right behind him, the Sixers will be forced to choose (if they can't swing a deal) between poor fits or weaker talents.
Jackson's shaky ball skills and jumper may not help a team like Philadelphia in need of offense. Jayson Tatum would force the Sixers to play big with Simmons, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric when the rest of the league is going small. De'Aaron Fox's ball-dominant style and poor shooting clash with Simmons. Malik Monk fits, but he isn't worth selecting as high as No. 3.
Even with Simmons handling the ball, it shouldn't take away from Fultz, who's flexible enough to play 2-guard with his size, length and shooting ability.
Either way, teams need multiple ball-handlers. And even with Simmons playing the LeBron James point-forward role, there should still be room for Fultz to do his thing, just as there is for Kyrie Irving in Cleveland.
Simmons also doesn't project as a volume scorer. His game is all about facilitating. Creating his own shot in the half court isn't one of his strengths.
Shot-creating and scoring are what separate Fultz—who turned 19 years old this month—from every prospect in this draft and previous ones.
He's highly advanced off the dribble, capable of generating offense off ball screens or isolation, both for himself and teammates. The James Harden comparisons are a reach, but that's the style of scoring playmaker the Sixers would be getting.
And don't forget—he finished with a higher assist percentage than Ball, Fox and Dennis Smith Jr. Fultz is a terrific and willing passer. With Fultz and Simmons in the same lineup, the Sixers should start seeing a lot more open looks at the basket.
Even if the Celtics are able to shake down Philadelphia for all their extra picks, passing on the chance to add Fultz requires courage.
Trading up, however, shouldn't require as much for the Sixers. This is a chance to grab an All-Star-caliber floor general at a time when scoring lead guards are in and the franchise lacks backcourt talent.
Fultz would finally give the roster, which the Sixers have been trying to build since 2013, a more balanced look from top to bottom. With a Fultz-Simmons-Embiid core, Philadelphia would have multiple go-to options, facilitators and rim protection.
The Sixers would officially have their foundation if they got the deal done. The next step would be easier—plugging the holes between their cornerstones with supporting players.
Apparently, Ainge feels hesitant about Fultz's fit with their trio of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart. Or maybe he's turned off by the teenager's laid-back approach.
By making the top pick available, Ainge would be giving the Sixers an opening they would regret not taking.
Fultz would be the key to unlocking Philadelphia's potential and the ultimate payoff from trusting the process.