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Markelle Fultz would be an incredible Maverick, no matter how unlikely

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The odds that the Mavs will get the chance to draft this potential number one pick are slim, but he would be a fantastic fit for the team.

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

“With the first pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the Dallas Mavericks select…”

Ok, so maybe not.

By December, it was clear it would be a tough season, and it looked like a real possibility that the Mavericks would be picking top five in this year’s draft. But we forgot about two things: Dirk Nowitzki and Rick Carlisle.

So the Mavericks found their legs, finally focused on young talent, and managed to not be the Brooklyn Nets.

But the team is still in the lottery, and while the odds of a top-three pick are slim, we here at Mavs Moneyball are doing our due diligence and taking a glance at all of the top NBA prospects over the next few weeks.

Today we’re starting with the player most analysts see going number one: Markelle Fultz.

The basics

College stat line

Over the course of his college career, Fultz averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 35.7 minutes per game with a PER of 28.6.

Best upside

James Harden

Safer comparison

D’Angelo Russell

Strengths

Listed 6’4” and 195 pounds with a 6’10” wingspan, the Washington Huskies product has a lot of the physical measurements and length teams want. And it isn’t like Fultz came out of nowhere, but given that he’s considered by many to be a late bloomer (he didn’t start playing varsity basketball until his junior year of high school), his ascension was quick.

Fultz has an intriguing combination of flashy playmaking and fundamental control. In the open floor, his casual pace makes it hard to read how fast he’s pushing the ball until he’s past his man and getting to the rim. In half-court sets he has an impressive array of effective moves for a player his age. He adds solid rebounding, great vision and an unselfish attitude on offensive, always finding ways to get others involved.

Something you don’t see in many young players is the ability to score from anywhere. Though the college sample size is small, Fultz’s 41.3 percent from three and 50.2 percent inside the arc show versatility in his game. His length and size complement a mid-range stroke that many players are no longer refining. The mechanics of his jump shot are consistent: he does a good job of squaring up and elevating. He also finishes well at the basket, using his length and a variety of moves.

Fultz may not have the same explosiveness off the dribble that a few other guards in this draft have, but his ball handling and ability to change direction in the lane make room in traffic. Considering he played his lone college season on a team with few contributors, it’s amazing he could create space for himself and others.

Fultz is also a perfect example of positional versatility and the lineup flexibility that comes with such a player. He can be a dynamic on-ball player but also has the range to catch and shoot on the wing. Give Fultz space to grow as a player, and you’re looking at a young guard with a very high ceiling.

Weaknesses

Though Fultz has a lot working for him on the offensive end, one glaring weakness is his 65 percent free-throw percentage. In the NBA, that would put him dead last among qualifying point guards this season. That’s a problem. He also tends to have a slow release on his jump shot and would do well to simplify some of his playmaking. There were times when Fultz would overcomplicate drives to the basket or passes through the lane that led to turnovers.

But his biggest deficiency is on the other end where his fluid, casual energy affects his defensive play. He doesn’t consistently engage and sometimes loses focus or takes plays off altogether. His center of gravity is too high, which limits his lateral quickness and his ability to fight through screens and close out on shooters or prevent cuts to the basket. Whether that’s the product of a poor Washington system or a lack of investment remains to be seen. Perimeter defense is so crucial in the NBA that Fultz can’t afford to not be engaged.

Fit with the Mavericks

Yes, it might be a pipe dream, but given the opportunity, the Mavericks should take a good hard look at Markelle Fultz.

His dynamic offensive play and his positional versatility would absolutely be maximized by Carlisle. The Mavericks lack guards with size, so Fultz could play alongside Matthews, then move off ball to play with Seth Curry, Yogi Ferrell or J.J. Barea. Carlisle is a master at creating space along the perimeter and has an offense designed for a guard to drive off screens and create. And the Mavericks have missed that driving element—Fultz could fix that.

The one question mark is his defensive. Yes, Matthews can take on lead guards, and yes, Yogi and Curry showed signs of improvement defensively this season. But if Fultz is to be leading the charge in a new Mavs era, he will have to find ways to improve his play on that end.

Overall, his ceiling is incredibly high and the areas that need focus can likely be improved with solid coaching and hard work. This season the Mavericks started shifting focus toward the post-Dirk era, and a player of Fultz’s caliber would be vital in speeding up the rebuild.