Washington’s Markelle Fultz will be a Better Version of Russell Westbrook
The 2017 NBA draft is loaded with superstar talent. Players like Dennis Smith, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Jackson are just a few of the guys that teams will take in the top ten this year. I believe that the best prospect in this class is Washington point guard Markelle Fultz. His combination of ball skills, size, and athleticism at the point guard position have drawn comparisons to MVP candidate Russell Westbrook.
Both guards both have a great work ethic. Westbrook is well known around the league for his relentless effort to get better, while Fultz went from playing JV to being a top ten high school prospect in two years. The comparisons are valid from what I have seen, but I think Fultz will be BETTER than Westbrook.
Coming out of UCLA as a sophomore, Russell Westbrook measured in at 6'3'’ and 192 pounds. That is very similar to Fultz who is 195 pounds but is about an inch taller at 6'4'’. This is probably where the comparison came from. Westbrook and Fultz have almost identical frames and they are both insanely athletic.
In his sophomore year at UCLA, this was Westbrook’s stat line:
PPG: 12.7 APG: 4.3 RPG: 3.9 FG%: 49.7 3P%: 33.8
Westbrook is obviously a much better scorer and distributor now that he has blossomed into an NBA superstar, but therein lies my point. Fultz is much farther along than Westbrook was as a basketball player coming out of college.
Westbrook did not start to polish his game until he was 24, where he averaged 23.2 points, 7.4 assists, and 5.2 rebounds with an effective field goal percentage(eFG) over 48%. Effective field goal percentage is great way to look at shooting because it takes into account both 2-point and 3-point field goals. Westbrook had seasons before he was 24 where he averaged over 20 points, but he did it with his raw capabilities. While already 24 years-old he had the highest eFG% of his career up to that point, so it proves that his game was more put together.
Here are Markelle Fultz’s stats so far this season:
PPG: 22.1 APG: 6.4 RPG: 5.9 FG%: 49.8 3P%: 43.5
Already at 18 years old, Fultz has displayed a very polished offensive game. He has an eFG of 55.3%, which is far better than any rate Westbrook has put up throughout his career. Fultz has a much better shooting stroke than Westbrook does, shown by a near 10% difference in three point percentages between the two’s college seasons.
He also has advanced play-making skills. Averaging 6 assists with the talent deprived roster Fultz is on at Washington is extremely impressive when you consider Westbrook averaged only 4 assists with Kevin Love on his team. When Fultz is 24, I would expect him to put up much better numbers than Westbrook’s 24.2/7.4/5.2 24 year old season.
As you can see in this video, Fultz has elite athleticism, but he also shows that he is polished on the offensive end. He has similar body control around the rim that Westbrook does, but has the silky smooth jumper that Westbrook simply does not have. Fultz has also made a name for himself with a number of chase down blocks that are featured above, so we know that he has the defensive instinct needed to succeed in the NBA.
An area where I think the college version of Westbrook has an advantage on Fultz is athleticism. I think Westbrook is a better athlete but not by a wide margin. If I rated both of their athletic abilities on a scale of 1–10, I would give Westbrook a ten and give Fultz a nine. Overall, I think the difference in athleticism does not outweigh the advantage Fultz has over Westbrook in terms of basketball skills at such a young age.
Westbrook was selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft because the Seattle Supersonics(About to become the OKC Thunder) saw a physically dominant point guard with room to sharpen his basketball skills, and become a superstar caliber player. The same dynamic possibilities are present with Fultz, but there is potential for him to catch on quicker, and have a more productive career thanks to his superior shooting stroke.
Markelle Fultz is the best prospect in this year’s draft, and the level that Westbrook is playing at, it will only help Fultz’s chances at becoming the top selection in June. If teams see a player like Fultz that has better potential than Westbrook, who is averaging a triple double this year, it will make them more likely to ignore all other prospects on the board.
Based on the numbers that Russell Westbrook put up as a 19 year-old sophomore compared to that of 18 year old Fultz, the Washington point guard has the potential to be a better version of Russell Westbrook. Fultz should be able to develop the same skills that Westbrook has, but he will eventually prove that he is superior when his jump shot turns him into one of the most dynamic players in recent memory. It should be interesting to see which team lands Fultz, because they will likely be landing a franchise altering player.