ESPN analyst Jay Bilas: Markelle Fultz 'will fit with anyone'

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas: Markelle Fultz 'will fit with anyone'

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said on a conference call Monday morning that Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, expected to be taken first overall by the Sixers in Thursday’s NBA draft, should have no problem playing next to Ben Simmons in the team’s new-look backcourt.

“Markelle Fultz will fit with anyone,” said Bilas, who will be part of ESPN’s coverage team Thursday. “He is the most complete offensive player in the draft.”

The Sixers swung a trade with Boston to acquire the first pick, and the 6-foot-4 Fultz, a Maryland native who played a single season for the Huskies, is almost unanimously viewed as the top player available. He averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds in 2016-17 while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor and 41.3 from 3-point range.

Bilas ticked off Fultz’s attributes: “Passes. Shoots. Shoots from range. Finishes around the basket. And he’s got NBA size and length for a point guard. He’s the best pick-and-roll ball handler in the draft. He can go either way. Excellent passer, and especially an excellent passer in pick-and-roll situations.”

Bilas did add that Fultz “floats a little bit defensively,” while noting that a great many collegiate stars have flaws at that end of the floor.

“But,” Bilas added, “he’s the real deal. You could put him next to anybody, and he’ll play.”

Simmons, last year’s top overall choice, did not play in 2016-17 because of a broken foot. Coach Brett Brown has said he intends to use the 6-foot-10 forward as his point guard, but that was before it seemed possible that the Sixers, who traded up from the third spot in the draft, would have a shot at Fultz.

Fultz turned 19 on May 29. Simmons turns 21 on July 20. Joel Embiid and Dario Saric are both 23. So while the team’s talent level has clearly improved over the last few years, it also seems likely that there will be some growing pains.

“Right now, contending is not really the issue,” Bilas said. “It’s building a sustainable culture for these younger guys.”

It’s not the worst time to try and do that, given Cleveland’s dominance in the Eastern Conference.

“Right now in the East, I don’t think it really matters who Philly gets; they’re not going to challenge Cleveland the next couple years, the next few years,” Bilas said. “I don’t think anybody in the East is going to do that.”

At the same time, he added, “Even LeBron James is going to get older. Building to be at your best when Cleveland’s going to be not at their best is probably the way to go for a franchise that hasn’t performed at a high level in several years.”

Josh Hart drafted in 1st round, goes to Lakers; undrafted Kris Jenkins reportedly joins Wizards

Josh Hart drafted in 1st round, goes to Lakers; undrafted Kris Jenkins reportedly joins Wizards

Josh Hart heard his name called, while Villanova teammate Kris Jenkins did not.

Hart snuck into the first round of Thursday night's NBA draft, going 30th overall to the Utah Jazz. However, the Wildcat is headed to the Los Angeles Lakers, via a trade.

While Jenkins went undrafted, it looks like he'll have a shot with an NBA team. Jenkins will join the Washington Wizards this offseason to compete for a roster spot, according to a report by NBA.com's David Aldridge.

After winning the national title as a junior with Villanova, Hart collected plenty of accolades in a standout senior season. The 6-foot-5 wing was named a consensus first-team All-American, Big East Player of the Year and took home the Julius Erving award as the top small forward in the country.

For the 32-4 Wildcats, Hart, a Silver Spring, Maryland native, averaged 18.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game, while shooting 40.4 percent from three-point range.

"I'm my biggest critic," he said last week after a pre-draft workout for the Sixers. "I drive myself as much as I can. I demand perfection from myself."

As Hart travels west, Jenkins, on the other hand, will head home for his NBA opportunity. The 6-foot-6 forward, beloved for his buzzer-beating three-pointer to win Villanova its 2016 national championship, is from Upper Marlboro, Maryland. He worked out for the Wizards in early June. He also worked out for the Sixers on Tuesday.

"It's a blessing," he said after his session with the Wizards, via the Washington Post. "You always root for the hometown team, you always want them to do well. Honestly it's humbling to be in this position, to grow up in this area, to have some games here and play college ball here and then come back and work out for the Wizards."

After flirting with the NBA draft process following their title-winning season, both Hart and Jenkins decided to return to school for their senior campaigns.

They both took to Twitter on Thursday night following the draft — Hart in excitement, Jenkins more in a humorous manner.

Sixers 'dug very deep' into Markelle Fultz's perceived weaknesses

Sixers 'dug very deep' into Markelle Fultz's perceived weaknesses

CAMDEN, N.J. — You don't have to do much research on Markelle Fultz to find his perceived shortcomings.

Washington finished 9-22 his only season there. Draft experts also questioned his effort, especially on the defensive end of the floor.

None of that concerned the Sixers when they made him the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft Thursday night.

"One of the weaknesses was, 'Does he bring it every night defensively? Did he have that killer instinct?'" Sixers head coach Brett Brown said following the pick. "I think if you take a high character person and you take an athlete, you have the foundation to coach him to be an elite defender."

There isn't much question about Fultz's offensive game. The 19-year-old guard averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game in his only season with the Huskies. He also shot an impressive 41.3 percent from three-point range.

His skill set as a shooter and scorer seems to complement the skills of franchise centerpieces Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. With his selection, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo is hoping the Sixers can start to build a winning culture.

But does Fultz's nine-win season at Washington concern him at all?

"You look at every aspect of evaluating a prospect," Colangelo said. "We've dug very deep on this and we feel that regardless of whatever the performance of the University of Washington Huskies was last year, it's not relevant to who Markelle represents, what he represents as a player, and how he is going to fit in and help us turn this program around."

Fultz took an interesting path to being the No. 1 pick. He didn't make the varsity team at famed DeMatha High School in Maryland as a sophomore (see story). A growth spurt helped bring more attention to his game.

He chose Washington because of the relationship he had developed with its coaching staff. He also thought he'd have the opportunity to play with sophomores Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray. Instead, both players were surprise one-and-dones and Fultz was forced to carry the team on his shoulders.

"He wasn't always considered the best prospect, but he emerged and earned the right to be the best prospect," Colangelo said. "You're talking about a young man who goes to the University of Washington, didn't have great team success. Unfortunately, part of that may be personnel driven, part of that may be circumstantial.

"To do what he did at the level of the Pac-12 and to be able to average 23 points a game, six rebounds and six assists. You're talking, again, about great performance on the floor, a player that does so many different things and we believe someone that's going to help make his teammates better. "

Colangelo mentioned that Fultz "has the tools" to become an excellent defender. Fultz stands at 6-foot-4 with an impressive 6-foot-10 span. He also has plenty of athleticism and strength to compete defensively against NBA ones and twos.

Brown acknowledged that defense could be the biggest hole in Fultz's game, but feels like he could get the most out of Fultz on the defensive end.

"I think that down deep he understands the knock against him and I believe that when we get him with our program, he understands how we see the world here," Brown said. "It's gonna be an evolution, no doubt. But it's a willing defensive player and it's a willing athlete, a gifted athlete under a roof of a quality person. I think having those types of qualities lets you have a far better chance to mold him into the type of defensive player we need here."