By: Kwame Fisher-Jones
Markelle Fultz may be the next face of the NBA, but under no circumstances can the guard be the next Philadelphia 76er! Look it is easy to excuse losing, and it has become commonplace in Philadelphia to accept losing. But when an organization selects a player who led his college team to their worst record in 23 years, excuses and accepting turn into expecting.
Now it is not mutually exclusive to hope the young man has a HEALTHY and TREMENDOUS career, while at the very same time praying to the stars the guard is not selected by the 76ers. Again this is not to wish any ill will on Fultz, the “ceiling truly is the roof” for the Maryland native, however Philly needs more than talent to change the culture that has infested 76er basketball.
9 – 22 (9 – 16 if you only consider the games the former Washington Husky played in) does not just happen. It is one thing to underachieve as a club but it is a completely different animal to be among the worst in your league. The numbers are startling, 11 losses by 10 or more points (in the games Markelle played in), a nine game losing streak and two victories against teams with a winning record.
Such results are not usually found in a perceived franchise player.
No the guard’s club does not have to finish 30 – 2, but 9 – 22 is downright deplorable. Has the basketball community become that oblivious to on the floor results? Has analytics and YouTube really eliminated the instantaneous effect a great player has on his team?
When fans and followers of Huskies basketball are asked why the team finished so poorly, the company line is Marquese Criss and Dejounte Murray left the University earlier than anticipated. Their departures left Fultz with a squad incapable of playing competitive basketball, allegedly. This is an interesting viewpoint, and one that would have merit if Allen Iverson had not made it to the Elite Eight with Victor Page as his second leading scorer.
Let us not “misremember” Willie Warren riding shotgun to Blake Griffin’s Oklahoma Sooners Elite Eight appearance, and who can forget how great Dwyane Wade’s Marquette squad was? How Wade managed to only make it to the Final Four will remain a mystery? Last but certainly not least, Steph Curry’s freshman year with the Davidson Wildcats and how the guard barely managed to lead a loaded roster to its first winning season in………. who really cares.
Point being, it is disrespectful to other great players, and number one overall picks, to excuse Fultz’s team performance. It is insulting to the litany of ballers who have elevated players not worthy of sharing the same hardwood, but such a mind state has become a staple of this generation.
In sports a team with a sub .500 record can be comprised of talented players, but a plus .500 team is never filled with bad players. Talent will remain the defining line for good and bad teams, yet that line becomes blurred when one goes from good to great.
The former Husky guard has talent, but much like the Minnesota Timberwolves are discovering with Andrew Wiggins, intangibles and the immeasurable are what makes a franchise player. If they don’t bite as puppies they won’t bite as full grown dogs. Meaning the will to win and lead a team are obvious even in the early stages of a career.
While there are isolated situations how often do you hear the phrase “soft-spoken” followed by “leader of men”, “will to win” or Finals MVP? Now circumstances can dictate context, and in the perfect circumstance the future NBA guard’s talent may match his team’s production.
But that circumstance ain’t in Philly! Yes anything is possible, but that does not mean every possibility is worth exploring.
As much as Philadelphia needs a playmaker and a finisher, they also need a personality willing and built to overcome injuries, poor draft picks and a roster in extreme flux. All the while being the foundation in which a glorious franchise can return to prominence.
With all due respect a guard who missed six of his team’s final eight games because of a sore knee (that would be right up the Sixers alley) is not the pillar you want supporting your franchise’s rebuild. Fultz scored 25 or more points in 12 of the 25 games he played in, and as tempting as that scoring prowess may be Philly has to pass.
Joel Embiid missed the tournament because of injury, Dario Saric did not play in the tournament because he was already a professional overseas, and Ben Simmons did not participate in the madness because his team was not good enough. Therefore the Sixers already have the market cornered on core players who have missed the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the one player (Jahlil Okafor) who had success in the Tournament has struggled mightily of late.
Adding another player who, regardless of the reason, did not play in what amateur basketball recognizes as the highest level of competition would yield the same results as the previous players mentioned. Despite the hope that seems to always accompany the assumption of the best case scenario, the reality is those players will not alter the losing of a franchise.
Yes it is true a player’s tournament or college team success does not always translate to the pros. However, in the league’s history no player has been selected first overall after a losing college season. There have been players selected after mediocre seasons, and then there is Ray Felix’s 1953 selection by the Baltimore Bullets after not even playing college basketball due to a point shaving scandal. Yet, those exceptions should not give credence to the misguided belief that success is around the corner if the front office follows this road.
Taking that one step further, since 1982 no player has won an NBA Finals MVP without playing in an NCAA Tournament game (excluding players who came directly from high school or from foreign leagues).
This is not to suggest Fultz cannot be the first, but the 76ers would be doing themselves a disservice by attempting to find out. The time has come for Sixers brass to stop trying to be innovators and figure out a way to win within the confines of the system in place.
The laws of sports are not complicated even if they are complicatedly executed. It is a foregone conclusion that great players make other players better, the better the player normally the better the team. That may not always result in championships or even championship contention, but it almost never results in 9 – 22.
Markelle seems to have the physical capabilities to be a top five pick in the NBA draft, but it takes more than that to overcome the obstacles that come with that selection. Philadelphia needs a player who will make all the losses worth it. A player who will be obstinate in accepting defeat and insolent, when required, in their pursuit of greatness.